Now Is The Time For The Capitals To Give Ilya Samsonov More Starts

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Ever since the Washington Capitals drafted goalie Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the franchise has touted the now-22-year-old as the future of the franchise. After watching Samsonov go 8-1-1 in his first 10 starts, it’s easy to see why he has been so highly touted. At the same time, the Capitals have Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy-winning Braden Holtby sporting a 16-3-4 record and returning to prime form this season. With Holtby eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Capitals facing a tight salary cap going into next season, the team has some difficult decisions to make. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the expansion draft for the new Seattle franchise is set for June of 2021 and the Capitals will almost certainly opt to protect just one goalie. The best move for the team right now is to give Samsonov more starts to test his endurance and expose him to high-quality competition.

Samsonov leads NHL rookie netminders in save percentage (.918) and goals-against average (2.38) and most recently made 26 saves in the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the league’s best offensive team in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With 48 games left until the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, the Capitals need to give Samsonov a mix of different playing situations whether it’s the level of competition, playing either night of a back-to-back, or a stretch with a heavy workload. It might also be best to give him opponents against whom Holtby has struggled lately or in his career, like the Nashville Predators, who he has gone 0-3-1 in his past four games against and allowed six goals in each of his last three, or buildings like he has struggled in like T-Mobile Arena, home of the Vegas Golden Knights. Even though Holtby won the Stanley Cup and made “The Save” there, he has allowed 17 goals in five games at T-Mobile Arena, regular-season and the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

If Samsonov is going to be the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie next season, it will be important for him to get familiar with the opponents from around the Metropolitan Division. He has already started one game against the New York Islanders, where he made 25 saves in his NHL debut on October 4. He should get at least one start against every Metropolitan Division foe that the Capitals have to face for the rest of the season and probably more depending on how many times the Capitals play that opponent. For example, the Capitals have yet to play the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins this season, so they will likely want to give Samsonov at least a couple starts against them, one at Capital One Arena and at PPG Paints Arena, especially since the Capitals could very well see the Penguins in April and May of 2021.

Of course for some games, like the one on March 22 in Pittsburgh, the decision on who will start will be based on which goaltender is performing better.

The Capitals also want to be mindful of fatigue. It’s important that neither goalie goes through stretches where they are playing to much or not enough so it won’t impact their play in a bad way. And recall that Holtby’s outstanding run to the Stanley Cup in 2018 came after starting just 6 of the Capitals last 16 regular-season games, so giving him some additional rest may pay off during the playoffs.

Samsonov is currently on pace to finish the season with 24 starts, which needs to increase for the Capitals to determine their goaltender of the future. Giving him some more starts will help the team find out the direction that they ultimately want to take in the crease.

After Monday’s game at the Columbus Blue Jackets, where Holtby is slated to start on the back end of the team’s annual father’s and mentor’s trip, this is how the Capitals should envision splitting the goalies assuming both keep performing at a high level and stay healthy:

12/20 at NJ: Holtby

12/21 vs. TB: Samsonov

12/23 at BOS: Holtby

12/27 vs. CBJ: Samsonov

12/28 at CAR: Holtby

12/31 vs. NYI: Holtby

1/3 at CAR: Samsonov

1/5 vs. SJ: Samsonov

1/7 vs. OTT: Holtby

1/8 at PHI: Samsonov

1/11 vs. NJ: Holtby

1/13 vs. CAR: Holtby

1/16 vs. NJ: Samsonov

1/18 at NYI: Samsonov

1/27 at MTL: Holtby

1/29 vs. NSH: Samsonov

1/31 at OTT: Samsonov

2/2 vs. PIT: Holtby

2/4 vs. LA: Samsonov 

2/8 vs. PHI: Holtby

2/10 vs. NYI: Samsonov

2/13 at COL: Samsonov

2/15 at ARI: Holtby

2/17 at VGK: Samsonov

2/20 vs. MTL: Holtby

2/22 at NJ: Holtby

2/23 vs. PIT: Samsonov

2/25 vs. WPG: Samsonov

2/27 at WPG: Holtby

3/1 at MIN: Holtby

3/4 vs. PHI: Samsonov

3/5 at NYR: Holtby

3/7 at PIT: Samsonov

3/9 at BUF: Holtby

3/12 vs. DET: Samsonov

3/14 vs. CHI: Holtby

3/16 vs. EDM: Samsonov

3/19 at CBJ: Samsonov

3/20 vs. OTT: Holtby

3/22 at PIT: Samsonov

3/24 vs. STL: Holtby

3/26 vs. NYR: Samsonov

3/28 at DET: Holtby

3/30 at BUF: Holtby

3/31 vs. TOR: Samsonov

4/2 vs. MIN: Holtby

4/6 at FLA: Samsonov

With this plan, each goaltender gets 24 additional starts before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and goes through heavy and light stretches in addition to giving Samsonov some quality opponents and divisional foes. Of course, it could change depending on numerous factors listed above.

No matter how the Capitals decide to split the remaining 48 games on the regular-season schedule between the goalies, it’s critical to increase Samsonov’s workload and put him up against competition that he’ll face as the No. 1 goalie whether that’s next season or further down the road. It will also make GM Brian MacLellan’s final decision on whether to keep Holtby beyond next season a lot easier because if he struggles, he might want to rethink the team’s future in net. With Samsonov playing strong in between the pipes, there is no reason why head coach Todd Reirden shouldn’t start him more. With Holtby’s future in Washington uncertain after this season, testing Samsonov more is critical.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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12 Responses to Now Is The Time For The Capitals To Give Ilya Samsonov More Starts

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m backing this plan. As long as they are in first place, give Sammy more time.

    Like

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  3. Anonymous says:

    How bout NO! You stick to the Plan! Your HOF Goalie starts his 60 games and Sammy can get his 20 starts or so.. Im sick and tired of morons trying to push Holtby out the door when hes carried this team for years& including this year many times over.

    Like

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  5. Just Cuz says:

    This is a question that does warrant some debate due various variables that are coming in the future. That said, there is a lot frustration listening to people that do not have direct experience with being a high caliber goaltender. A position that has been known to be one of the hardest to play in all of sports. Besides periodic struggles Holtby is a great leader and brings many intangibles to the community, his team, and a desire to always do better (as seen in his mental preparation etc…he is a top notch guy that one should use caution to, if thinking can be easily replaced….his stats speak for themselves while everything else he does just adds to his value. Disrupting the rhythm of this years Stanley cup contending team is something you don’t want to do!
    A Saskatchewan fan..

    Like

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