As goaltender Ilya Samsonov looks poised to become the Washington Capitals‘ starter for the foreseeable future after this season due to a strong campaign and Braden Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to be re-signed, NoVa Caps takes a look at previous rookie goaltenders’ performances to see how Samsonov compares.
Philipp Grubauer – 2013-14
The 22-year-old was called up by the team at the beginning of December and ran with the opportunity as he posted a 6-2-5 record, a .936 save percentage, and a 2.06 goals-against average to grab the starter’s net momentarily. After he lost four straight starts and allowed six goals on 22 shots (.727 save percentage) in his last two, Grubauer was sent down to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He played just one more game for the Capitals the rest of the season and allowed one goal on 11 shots in a relief appearance against the Philadelphia Flyers after the team dealt Michal Neuvirth to the Buffalo Sabres for Jaroslav Halak on trade deadline day. Grubauer finished his rookie season with a 6-5-5 record, a .915 save percentage, and a 3.57 goals-against average but faced an average of 31.9 shots-per-60 minutes, the 24th-most in the NHL.
Braden Holtby – 2010-11
The 21-year-old got off to a strong start to his rookie campaign, going 2-0-1 with a .936 save percentage and allowing just five goals in his first three career games. After allowing eight goals on 28 shots (.714 save percentage) in his next two starts and getting pulled after playing just 9:07 in the first one, Holtby was re-assigned to the Bears and got two more stints with the big club that year. He took advantage of his opportunities, never finishing with a save percentage below .900, and he allowed two goals at most in all but one start the rest of the way. Holtby finished the season 10-2-2 with a .934 save percentage (second among all goaltenders who started at least 10 games that year behind only Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins: .938), a 1.79 goals-against average (first), and two shutouts. Though, his average of 27.1 shots-faced per 60 was tied for the third-fewest in the NHL that season.
Michal Neuvirth – 2009-10
The 21-year-old allowed nine goals on 58 shots (.845 save percentage) in his first two starts before posting a .946 save percentage in his next three after being recalled from the Bears. That appeared to be the theme of Neuvirth’s rookie season as he followed a solid stretch with a horrific one. After earning a majority of the starts in January, Neuvirth never appeared in another game after getting pulled on February 10, when he allowed two goals on 14 shots against the Montreal Canadiens. Despite his inconsistency, Neuvirth finished the season with a 9-4-0 record, a .914 save percentage, and a 2.75 goals-against average. He also backstopped the Bears to a Calder Cup that season when he posted a .920 save percentage, a 2.07 goals-against average, and one shutout. While Neuvirth was inconsistent in his rookie campaign, the 31.9 shots-per-game (tied for the 17th-most) makes it a bit easier to understand.
Semyon Varlamov – 2009-10
Despite winning five straight to begin the season, the 21-year-old posted only an .895 save percentage and a 3.20 goals-against average to begin his rookie campaign. After that, he went 7-1-2 with a .941 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average (both were fourth in the NHL) in his next 10 starts. Varlamov suffered a groin injury that caused him to start just one game in the next three months and he never returned to form, going 3-3-4 with an .885 save percentage and a 3.08 goals-against average the rest of the way. He finished his rookie season going 15-4-6 with a .909 save percentage, a 2.55 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He did play in six of the Capitals’ seven Stanley Cup Playoff games that season, but finished with only a .908 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average.
Jim Carey – 1994-95
The 20-year old finished his rookie season with an 18-6-3 record, a .913 save percentage, a 2.13 goals-against average, and four shutouts but faced an average of only 24.5 shots-per-60, the fifth-fewest in the league. Carey led the league in wins and shutouts after he made his NHL debut, was seventh in save percentage, and was second in goals-against average (John Vanbiesbrouck – 2.12). He went 13-2-2 with a .922 save percentage and a 1.87 goals-against average in his first 17 starts before winning only one of his next five but still put up an admirable .916 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average during that stretch. Carey wrapped up the season going 4-0-1 in his last five appearances but posted just an .880 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average but that did not carry over to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he went 2-4 with an .834 save percentage and a 4.19 goals-against average in seven games.
Olaf Kolzig – 1994-95
Believe it or not, the 24-year-old had an adjustment period when he first got to the NHL, as he finished his rookie campaign with a 2-8-2 record, a .902 save percentage, and a 2.49 goals-against average (13th in NHL) despite facing an average of only 27.2 shots-per-60. Though, Martin Brodeur had the same save percentage as Kolzig that season. He actually did pretty well despite his record as he finished with a save percentage of at least .909 in nine of his 14 games but he could have a bad night every now and then, which dragged down his save percentage. Kolzig also allowed two goals at most in 10 games, including one in half of those. He was solid in two Stanley Cup Playoff relief efforts as he allowed only one goal on 21 shots in 44:22 worth of ice-time over two starts, earning a win in one of them.
Ilya Samsonov – 2019-20
After a 15-2-1 start to his NHL career where he posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average, the 23-year-old went 1-4-1 with an .873 save percentage and a 4.11 goals-against average following the All-Star break. Samsonov started only three of the Capitals’ final 13 games before the pause after getting pulled for the first time in his career in the team’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on February 11 when he allowed five goals on 20 shots. In fact, since the All-Star break, Samsonov has only posted a save percentage above .897 once (.935 – 29 saves on 31 shots in a 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on February 27).
Of course, all goalies take time to get to the top of their game in the NHL and it is perfectly normal to go through a lull and most of the goalies discussed prior went through slumps as well. Samsonov became the first goalie in franchise history to win 10 straight starts earlier this season when he posted a .941 save percentage, a 1.60 goals-against average, and one shutout from November 30-January 18. Even before that, he put up strong numbers with a 6-2-1 record, a .914 save percentage, and a 2.58 goals-against average.
While Samsonov has the potential to be one of the best goaltenders in franchise history, we will need to see how he rises to the occasion in the playoffs when everything matters the most.
By Harrison Brown