Ilya Samsonov Will Play A Round-Robin Game But “It’s Braden Holtby’s Job To Lose,” Capitals’ Coach Todd Reirden Says

Scott Audette:Getty ImagesPhoto: Scott Audette/Getty Images

Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said on a Zoom call with the media on Monday that the acquisitions of defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks and forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline were “two good adds,” and felt like they will help when the season resumes. He liked what they brought to the room and thought they mixed in well.

He said that July 10, when mini-training camps will start if coronavirus case numbers continue to trend favorably, will be like day one of regular training camp. Reirden liked the direction the team was headed before the pause as they went 1-0-2 on a three-game road trip and had one of their best games of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7, when they won 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena.

Reirden told the media that he is not sure which players are coming in when. “[I have] talked before, providing them with as many resources as possible. … Medical doctors have done an outstanding job.”

He said that there were “no hiccups” following the first skate for players earlier this week as five Capitals took advantage of the first time they had the ice available to them since March 10, their final practice before the NHL paused its season.

Reirden expects players to come in the next one-to-two weeks and the beginning of July.
As the NHL Awards voting process is currently going on, Reirden hyped up defenseman John Carlson for the Norris Trophy as have many of his teammates, saying he “has progressed every season” since he’s arrived in Washington. He hopes the goal (of winning the Norris Trophy) “comes to fruition.” “His numbers speak for themselves.” “John deserves this award… my vote’s for John Carlson,” he said.

On deciding who will start between the pipes, Reirden said, “we know the importance of that position.” He acknowledged that Braden Holtby’s experience speaks for itself, and he was a big part of the Stanley Cup run in 2018. Reirden is happy he is among the Capitals who stayed in town. “It’s Braden Holtby‘s job to lose. … He’ll get the first crack.” He liked how he played before the pause as he went 6-4-2 with a .901 save percentage and a 3.08 goals-against average after the calendar flipped to February despite the Capitals not playing up to par defensively.

However, Reirden expects to see some of Ilya Samsonov, who went 16-6-2 with a .913 save percentage, a 2.55 goals-against average, and a shutout in a strong rookie campaign, during the three-game round-robin leading up to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. “We need both our goalies [and our black aces] ready,” he said.

On the risk of being exposed to players while being with his son, Travis, who has a severe immune system disorder, Reirden said, “It’s a big thing. It’s important and needs to be well thought out.” Travis is doing better. The family has stayed in Falls Church, Virginia, during the pause.

Reirden will be going back to the outside of Chicago, where he spends his offseasons the next bit before training camp begins. He knows that he will be apart from his family for a bit but hopes to be with them before they head to Las Vegas, which will likely host the Eastern Conference teams, or wherever the hub city is.

Reirden said that everyone would return to the team when training camp opens and doesn’t expect anyone to hold out of playing. Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi could be held out of the team’s play-in series against the Pittsburgh Penguins due to type-one diabetes.

“No one’s ever gone through what [we are] now,” Reirden said.

He told the media that the Capitals need to be able to adjust “because it’s not going to be perfect.” That was the first thing he said to staff and players when the NHL season paused. Reirden noted that the team had gone through bumps in the road this season but nothing like this.

Reirden said that goalie coach Scott Murray and assistant Blaine Forsythe would be on the ice as soon as coaches are allowed. Coaches are starting to come into town to get tested and start working with players.

He feels great about the current situation that the Capitals are in “because we’re a veteran team” but said that it would be up to coaches and players to adjust. “Every situation with players is different,” Reirden said.

He acknowledged that it would be difficult to find a balance between pushing the players while trying to recognize the layoff and rust that they have gone through for the past three months. It is “important to assess” that balance, Reirden said.

“We know we have our work cut out for us” for round-robin, Reirden told the media. The Capitals will face the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Philadelphia Flyers to determine tournament seeding while the qualifying round is being played. His focus is on improving every day.

Reirden said that he is not even allowed at MedStar Capitals Iceplex during phase two of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. He said it is a “good way for me to learn something new,” and he is “just waiting for my opportunity.”

The Capitals are “close to finalizing” black aces, Reirden said, and a lot of discussions are going on, but they are still waiting for final rules to come out. “Versatility” is a factor in those decisions, he added.

Reirden has had “consistent conversations” with captain Alex Ovechkin throughout the pause. The two have been in contact often. Ovechkin, who is skating with other Russians in Florida where he has an offseason home, is feeling good on the ice, he said. “He will be ready,” and could be on his way to the Washington area soon.

Reirden talked to the other three major Washington coaches on a conference call during the pause. He described it as “a great think tank” and a great way “to continue to learn as a leader.” He said that the items spoken of on the call were “interesting to hear.”

“Our group is a competitive group,” Reirden said. He knows that his players enjoy the work that they do in practice. A chance to get the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the round-robin “will make for competitive games,” he added.

Reirden stressed that the team needs to make sure that the third and fourth goalies in Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek are ready to play. “It’s important that we’re all ready,” he said.

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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