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What goalie controversy? Why Samsonov is not going to take over as the No. 1 even after a rough start for Holtby

What goalie controversy? Why Samsonov is not going to take over as the No. 1 even after a rough start for Holtby

You could pretty much see this coming. With Braden Holtby on the last year of his contract and with his assumed successor, Ilya Sasmonov, now serving as his backup in the NHL, all the elements were there for a goalie controversy. All it needed was for Samsonov to play well in his opportunities and Holtby to struggle for murmurs over whether Samsonov should be named the No. 1 to begin bubbling in Washington.

But ultimately there is no goalie controversy for the Washington Capitals because Samsonov was never going to be the No. 1 goalie in the 2019-20 season. That has not and, barring some extreme circumstances, will not change.

Is this because of underlying concerns over Samsonov’s play? A coach and general manager’s stubborn loyalty to Holtby? A reluctance to turn the reins over to a young rising star?

No, no and no.

To figure out why the Caps will keep Holtby as their starter through the regular season, even if it means seeing him walk as a free agent in the offseason, let’s turn the clocks back to 2018. From Feb. 2 to March 6, Holtby suffered the worst stretch of his career. In 11 games, he won just three with a save percentage of .872 and a whopping 4.45 GAA. He was pulled four times in those 11 games.

There’s no sugarcoating it, he was awful.

When discussing the possibility of Samsonov taking over as the No. 1, many fans have brought up this stretch as an example of when Holtby lost his job as the starter to Philipp Grubauer. But there are few important factors that people are forgetting.

First, Grubauer had a lot of starting experience by that time. Being a starter is not just about being able to play well in a single game, it is about being able to handle the grind of playing in multiple games. Grubauer played in 50 total games in 2014-15 (49 with Hershey, one with the Caps), 45 games in 2013-14 (28 with Hershey, 17 with the Caps), 56 games in 2012-13 (26 with the Reading Royals, 28 with Hershey and two with the Caps) and 43 games with South Carolina in 2011-12.

The most games Samsonov has played in a single season? That would be 37 which he played just last year in Hershey. The team had faith in Grubauer’s ability to handle the rigors of being a No. 1 because he had the experience, experience that Samsonov does not yet have.

An NHL season consists of 82 games plus the playoffs. For Samsonov to take over in October, the first month of the season, you would have to think that would mean he would play at least 45 or 50 games, this from a player in his first year in the NHL who has never played that many games at any level in his career. That was never going to happen.

When Holtby was pulled from the game in March 6, 2018, he took time for a reset and did not play again until March 16. When he returned, there were 12 games left in the season. He started six of them.

Even when Holtby was at his absolute worst, he never became the outright backup in the regular season. It was not until the start of the postseason that Grubauer was named the No. 1.

Knowing this, I’m not sure how anyone could reasonably expect Samsonov to take over as the No. 1, especially in the first month of the season. If that stretch in 2018 was not bad enough to relegate Holtby to the backup, a handful of rough performances to start the 2019 season sure is not going to.

Yes, Holtby is a little older, but he’s still just 30 and it wasn’t like the Cup run was five years ago. It was 16 months ago. And, by the way, let’s not forget how that story ended in 2018. If there is any goalie in the NHL who could rebound from a tough start to the season, it seems like the guy who was able to rebound from the worst stretch of his career to lead a team to its first Stanley Cup would be a pretty good candidate.

Holtby already looks like a different goalie after just one game off and has rebounded in his last two starts, both wins, making 67 saves on 72 shots for a .931 save percentage.

When you get to the playoffs, all bets are off. If Samsonov has been the better goalie at that point, it would not be shocking at all to see him take over as the starter. But even if he is brilliant this season, at the most he is going to split time with Holtby, he is not going to start getting a bulk of the starts.

Obviously, an injury to Holtby would change things as would the team completely bottoming out this season. If it becomes clear that the rebuild is upon us, Holtby suddenly becomes obvious trade bait. As long as the Caps remain a Cup contender, however, there is no reason to trade away the goalie that got you there in 2018, especially if doing so would mean throwing Samsonov to the wolves and playing him in more games than you know he can handle. It is not good for the team’s Cup chances and it is not good for Samsonov’s development. It is just not going to happen.

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Penguins lose Sidney Crosby for a minimum of 6 weeks after undergoing surgery

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Penguins lose Sidney Crosby for a minimum of 6 weeks after undergoing surgery

The Pittsburgh Penguins have already dealt with a litany of injuries this season, but none as significant as this one. The team announced Thursday that Sidney Crosby has undergone what it called a “successful core muscle injury repair” and will be out a minimum of six weeks. Crosby has been dealing with a sports hernia since training camp.

The Penguins have already been without Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang for points this season, but obviously neither means as much to that team as Crosby. Despite dealing with the sports hernia, Crosby still leads the team with 17 points in 17 games.

Pittsburgh currently sits fourth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 10-6-2. Just two years removed from their last Stanley Cup, an aging Penguins roster faced scrutiny heading into the season over whether the team was good enough to keep up in a competitive Metropolitan Division, especially in the wake of getting swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in 2019. Though it is still early, losing Crosby for such a significant period of time while the team sits in the middle of the standings could torpedo their chances of returning to the playoffs.

But don’t dismiss the Penguins just yet.

Injuries are nothing new for Crosby who has only once in his career played a full 82 games. In his 13 seasons prior to this year, he has been limited to fewer than 55 games three times, not including the lockout-shortened season. In all three seasons, Pittsburgh still made the playoffs.

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Capitals complete undefeated month, Ovechkin lets up on Niskanen and is Oshie the best shootout player ever?

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Capitals complete undefeated month, Ovechkin lets up on Niskanen and is Oshie the best shootout player ever?

The Capitals have not lost in regulation in a month. With their 2-1 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, Washington extended its point streak to 13 games. The Caps have won 11 of their last 12 and have not lost in regulation since Oct. 14.

Check out Wednesday's game recap here.

Observations from the win

Panik is close

This was easily Richard Panik’s best game as a Cap. He had four shots on goal in the first period and six for the game. He had only seven shots on goal total in his nine games prior to Wednesday. He looked like one of the more dangerous offensive players for Washington and the third line actually looked offensively dangerous.

Now here’s the key, Panik has to continue playing like this. He can’t deliver a performance like this once every 10 games, this needs to be the new normal and not the exception.

Radko Gudas

Yeah, this game mattered to Gudas. He was far more aggressive in the offensive zone than we have seen him at any point this season. In the first period, he cut through the middle of the offensive zone and dangled the puck like a scoring winger. He nearly scored and that would have been a goal to remember.

No consistency by the refs

Slashing is called differently in today’s NHL than it was ten years ago. Heck, it is different than it was five years ago. Old-school hockey enthusiasts hate it, but whatever. It's fine. There’s not enough padding on the gloves and players get hurt from even innocent-looking slashes. It's better to have a few soft calls in the game than more broken fingers.

If you are going to call those light slashes as penalties, that’s fine, but you have to do it consistently. The issue is not that refs are calling too many slashes, it’s just that there is no consistency with those calls.

Jakub Vrana was called for a very light slash on Ivan Provorov in the second period. By the letter of the law, it was a slash. OK, they called it and that means that this is the standard you have now set. In the third period, Sean Couturier gave Wilson a whack in front of the net while he was battling for the puck. Ten years ago, no one would have batted an eyelash over it, t was just a light tap. But the refs set the standard with the Vrana slash, yet there was no call. You could see Wilson, he is used to having grown men throw their fists at his face, complain about what was a light tap to the refs. The severity of the slash was not the problem, consistency was.

That’s the frustrating part. It’s not that the Vrana slash was called, it’s that the same standard was not kept throughout the game.

Ovechkin on Niskanen

In the second period, Alex Ovechkin had Matt Niskanen square in his sights. The commentators on the broadcast praised Ovechkin for following through on his hit even though it was against his former teammate. I hate to disagree, but it sure looks to me like Ovechkin could have ended Niskanen with this hit. I’m fairly certain Ovechkin took something off this, but you be the judge:

Eastern conference

The Caps have played only eight games against the Eastern Conference in their first 20. In those eight games, Washington has not lost a single one in regulation and now has a record of 7-0-1.

Turning point

After the first period, this looked like it was going to be an easy win for the Caps who were completely dominating. After two periods, it looked like Washington would have to settle for a narrow victory. Then Nic Dowd toe picked in front of Matt Niskanen and fell into the former Caps’ legs. As happens in hockey, one bad penalty call quickly turned into a goal as Claude Giroux scored on a 2-on-1 to tie the game.

That was the difference between a regulation win and a shootout win on Wednesday for Washington.

Play of the game

There were a number of great saves by Holtby as the Flyers began to tip the scales in their favor after the first period. This one stands out as the best as Tyler Pitlick thought he could spin and tuck the puck into the far-side of the net, but Holtby was able to turn him aside with the toe.


Stat of the game

T.J. Oshie is not just one of the best shootout players in the league, he is the best shootout player ever.


Quote of the game

Holtby does not say much after games. He talks about shutting everything out and focusing just on his play. He does not get excited for shutouts or overly down on himself after bad games. His entire focus is helping the team win.

One reporter asked Holtby if playing in a game like Wednesday's is more fun because of how he has to push himself when the oppositions' goalie plays so well. Holtby's answer reflects how much respect he has for Philadelphia's Carter Hart.

"Yeah it is. Especially when it’s a guy that’s fun to play against obviously. Connections in different ways. Being Western Canadian, I root for those guys. It was fun. It was fun to see him play really well and it was fun to compete like that."

Fan predictions

Gudas and Holtby were closest. Gudas was buzzing and nearly scored in the first period. Holtby allowed only one goal and was 13:45 away from the shutout.

The Caps as a team could not muster two goals against Hart so that streak is now over.

Ovechkin fell just a bit shy of scoring the 224 goals he needed to pass Gretzky’s record on Wednesday. Oh well, there’s always Friday’s game.

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