With goaltender Braden Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end, Ilya Samsonov is using this year to make his case as an option for the Washington Capitals’ top goaltender next season. So far, he has been everything the organization hoped he would be when they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.
The 22-year old currently ranks first in the NHL with a 2.11 goals-against average after allowing only two goals on 57 shots in his last two starts and seventh with a .926 save percentage. He pitched his first career NHL shutout on Monday in the Capitals’ 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and had a shutout streak of 135:08, where he stopped 55 straight shots.
After Samsonov made 32 saves in the team’s 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday — the first time in his NHL career where he started consecutive games, he became the 10th different rookie goaltender in NHL history to win nine straight games. Before Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues did it last season, no one accomplished that feat since the 1981-82 season.
Since the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on November 30, Samsonov has a 1.66 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. He is the only goaltender in the NHL with fewer than three losses and at least 17 games played. TSN’s Frank Seravelli currently has Samsonov second on his Calder Trophy ballot as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
Among goaltenders who have started at least five games, Samsonov’s .750 quality starts percentage is the second-best in the NHL behind only Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes. His 81 goals-against percentage (percentage of the league’s average goals-against) is tied for sixth in the league while his 8.76 goals-saved above average is ninth.
At five-on-five, Samsonov’s .936 save percentage is tied for fifth in the NHL among goalies who have played more than five games and his 1.82 goals-against average is third. He saves 6.78 more goals than the league average, the 11th-best. Samsonov has an .840 high-danger save percentage, which is 19th in the NHL, and a 1.17 goals-against average, which is 15th.
In 81.3% of Samsonov’s appearances, he has posted a save percentage of .900 or better. He has an .833 save percentage on the penalty-kill.
Samsonov appears to get better with rest — he has a .940 save percentage with at least three days in between appearances and a .925 with at least four. He’s posted a .921 save percentage with two days of rest. As noted above, Samsonov made consecutive starts for the first time in the NHL this week and stopped 55 of 57 shots for a .965 save percentage.
The Russian rookie was known as the Capitals’ No. 1 prospect for years and now he’s living up to the billing. As Holtby has struggled as of late, Samsonov has started seven of the team’s last 15 games. Samsonov will face some big tests as the Capitals continue their push for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
By Harrison Brown