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While the 2020-21 NHL season would be unlike any other, for second-year Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov, it has been one filled with challenges. After going 1-0-1 with a 3.36 Goals-Against Average and .868 Save Percentage in his first two games, the former first-round pick spent time on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and undergoing conditioning before returning to post his first victory since January 14 against the New Jersey Devils on February 28.
After missing the mandatory four games from being placed on the protocol list, Samsonov remained out until returning to team activities on February 8, before being sent to the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears on February 14, where he went 1-0-1-0 with a 2.95 Goals-Against Average and .885 Save Percentage, followed by a another stint in this past week, where he stopped 40 of 47 shots. The seesaw conditioning stints saw Samsonov bounce from the Capitals’ Taxi Squad, to the Bears, and back again, before finally returning to the lineup for his first start since January 17.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 28, 2021
After the team’s victory in New Jersey, Capitals Head Coach Peter Laviolette spoke on Samsonov’s return and performance in the game, one in which he turned aside 19 of 21 shots faced from Devils shooters. “There wasn’t a lot of work at the beginning, he’d probably like another chance. That being said, as the game moved on I thought he looked more and more comfortable…I thought he got stronger as the game went on. And then when it’s 3-2 and the game’s hanging in the balance, I actually thought that’s when he was at his best…he made some really key saves for our team”.
Samsonov’s countryman, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, also touched on Samsonov’s first start in over a month, saying, “I think for him it was a very important game mentally. We tried our best blocking shots, playing smart in the ‘D-zone’, for a kid who didn’t play lots of games, get a start right away and get a win is very important”.
Following his second victory of the season, Samsonov sits with a 2-0-1 record, 2.92 Goals-Against Average, and .878 Save Percentage.
By Michael Fleetwood