Ilya Samsonov Strong In NHL Debut Against Islanders

The road to the NHL was a long and winding one for Ilya Samsonov. Drafted in 2015 by the Washington Capitals, Samsonov would play two more years of professional hockey at home in Russia in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, before his contractual obligations would expire. Once legally free from KHL obligations, Samsonov would officially ink a deal with the Capitals just a few days later, and make his way to the States.

Samsonov would first spend a year with AHL Hershey. After a couple of months acclimating to North America and the North American game at the end of 2018, Samsonov would eventually find his way in 2019, ending his AHL season on a hot streak. He recorded his first shutout on January 12 (here) and posted a 15-3-2-1 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

Samsonov was briefly recalled to the Caps to serve as backup during an injury to Braden Holtby, but did not see game time. During the Capitals’ postseason, he and Hershey teammate Vitek Vanecek were recalled to practice with the team in the event an emergency backup was needed.

After a summer of workouts at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, a strong showing in the Rookie Showcase in Nashville, and a solid performance in the Capitals preseason, Samsonov was finally primed for his first real chance at playing time in the NHL.

Samsonov, 22, officially assumed the Capitals backup position after last season’s backup netminder Pheonix Copley was waived earlier this  week. Less than 24 hours later, Capitals bench boss Todd Reirden would officially name Samsonov the starter for the second game of the season against the Islanders in New York on Friday.


Samsonov would make the most of his first shot at the big leagues, Friday night in Uniondale. He stopped 25 of 26 shots he faced for a .962 game save percentage and a 2-1 Capitals win.

Samsonov’s only blemish came on a crazy deflection that bounced off the skates of three separate Capitals players, with Radko Gudas providing the final redirection for the Islanders only goal of the game.

Video: New York Islanders

Samsonov has had a proclivity to be wild or “noisy” in the crease in his younger days, particularly during his time in the KHL. Samsonov looked very comfortable, or “quiet” in the crease Friday night. His angles were solid, his movement in the crease was crisp and his decisions in the crease and around the goal were excellent. The glove side, an early season weakness for Samsonov last fall, was in step with the rest of his game. There would be no opening night nerves for the 6’-4” netminder from Magnitogorsk.

Video: @Capitals

“I thought he played great,” said Caps coach Todd Reirden of Samsonov’s debut. “He looked very comfortable in there. I’m not surprised; that’s how he has looked this year in particular since he has returned. In practice just the composure that he has, the confidence that he gives the bench; he definitely looks the part and was the part for sure tonight.”

The plan for the Capitals backup position is still day-to-day right now, as Pheonix Copley still could be recalled to reassume his position from last season, depending how the remainder of the month of October goes for Samsonov. However, as long as Samsonov continues his strong play, it’s safe to bet the backup position is in his hands.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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4 Responses to Ilya Samsonov Strong In NHL Debut Against Islanders

  1. Anonymous says:

    The kid was solid in net. The defense was the story, they made sure they protected him and the didnt hang him out to dry& were very strong. Not 1 breakaway I can recall like Holtby faced v Blues etc. So defense clearly made it easy for the kid.

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