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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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What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

The NHL season has been paused for two weeks and, with no real timetable for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knows when the season could resume. Whenever it does, there is no question that the season format will have to be tweaked in some way to account for the special circumstances. Because of that, just what the season should look like when play resumes has become a major topic of discussion in hockey circles.

Alex Ovechkin said on Thursday that he would like to see the league jump straight into the playoffs. On Monday, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan weighed in.

"Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games, both home and away," he said on a conference call, "So depending on the time you have when we come back or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games, close to possible of home and away if you could even those out and then kind of go from there after that."

For MacLellan, the biggest issues are the quality of play in the playoffs and the readiness of the players for that high-intensity hockey.

“I think ideally if time permitted, you would like a few games, but I would also be OK with jumping in the playoffs. I think for the benefit of the quality of play and the players’ health, ideally you’re playing a few games before you enter the playoffs.”

"It's going to be a challenge," he added. "We're going to end up being at least two months off, and to come in at various levels of conditioning -- some of it out of the players' hands -- it's going to be a hard thing to accomplish, to get players into game shape and send them into a playoff-type situation almost immediately."

One issue is that even when the coronavirus is under control, that doesn't mean the threat is totally gone. Unless there is a vaccine, should the NHL return this season certain precautions will have to be taken when the players return to begin practicing.

MacLellan said the team is discussing the possibility of small group skates and what precautions the team can take at its practice facility, MedStar Capitals Iceplex, to help prevent any of the players from contracting the virus.

"We've talked about that scenario taking place where we get on the other side of the virus curve and there's beginnings of you can have small groups," MacLellan said. "Could we structure something at [Medstar Capitals Iceplex] where we're bringing in three, four guys at a time? How do we handle sanitizing the training room, the equipment room? We've gone through these scenarios to be prepared if that becomes the case. If they say in June, OK you can start doing this, as an organization we want to be prepared for it. So that is a possibility and we're discussing it internally."

These are issues that must be discussed because the NHL is adamant that the Stanley Cup be awarded this year and that means probably playing hockey deep into the summer.

"I think depending on how the country, the world handles the virus, I think there is a possibility of playing end of June, July, August," MacLellan said. "I think the league is prepared, they've asked for building dates in August so I'm assuming it's a serious consideration on their part."

Just what that hockey will look like, however, is anyone's guess. There are still too many questions and too many unknowns about the league's possible return for there to be any definitive playoff format for the 2019-20 season. Until there is some clarity on when play may resume and how much time there will be for the remainder of the current season, then everyone remains in the dark.

"There's no set answer to it because I don't know how much time we're going to have," MacLellan said. "If we have eight weeks, do we have ten weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that's even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten a series? Could you shorten the end of the schedule? I think all those options are on the table and I think it's just how the virus plays out and how we handle it and how much time we would have to get a season in if we could get a season in at the end."

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WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

One of the biggest challenges for professional athletes during this coronavirus pandemic is keeping in shape. The lack of practices and games has forced them to find other ways to work out.

Capitals forward Carl Hagelin is doing his best to keep his legs ready for the return of the NHL season by high stepping in his front yard—with his one-year-old daughter Blanche.

If anything good has come out of this outbreak, it’s been the influx of home videos from athletes hanging out with their families.

Hagelin hasn’t posted much on Instagram since the social distancing guidelines went into effect, but this video with Blanche is already one of the best that’s come from a Capitals player so far.

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