Todd Reirden has a delicate situation to manage this season. Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ incumbent starter, is one of the best goaltenders in the league, a leader in the locker room, and has started 54 or more games in five straight seasons. The Vezina Trophy winner is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and will likely a net a salary at $10 million per season.
Then there’s Ilya Samsonov. The first-round pick surprisingly made the team out of Training Camp and will be Holtby’s understudy this season after Pheonix Copley was put on waivers and loaned to the Hershey Bears. Samsonov needs starts to develop. The young Russian could be the team’s goaltender of the future.
Capitals’ senior writer Mike Vogel asked Reirden how he’d split the starts this season.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 4, 2019
“Given that he’s a former first-round pick and Holts is in the last year of his deal, and because there’s only a dozen sets of back-to-backs, do you approach the number of starts that you want to try and get him differently than you would have with Pheonix last season?” Vogel asked.
“Yeah. You know what? I think for the most part for us it’s going to be we have a game plan in mind, but we’re going to play it pretty much game-by-game here and seeing how things are going to go,” Reirden said. “How Ilya does in the game and certain back-to-backs like this one, obviously having Braden play the second half of it at home, so they all line up a little bit different. We’ll have to judge it upon health and how goaltenders are performing because at the end of the day, it’s obviously a very important position and we need to be solid back there.”
Reirden appears to crack the window a little bit that if Samsonov performs well in these back-to-back opportunities, the team will give him more opportunities as the season goes on, but ultimately the decision making will be based on performance.
Samsonov will make his NHL debut Friday night against the New York Islanders. According to Reirden, he’s known for nearly the entire week that he’d start this game.
“Once we made our goaltending decision and he was going to be staying, I told him that day that he’d be playing tonight,” Reirden said. “He’s had plenty of time to think about it. He knows exactly what’s going on. He’s in a good spot. Looked sharp and ready today. Now it’s all about performance. He’s a guy that we believe a lot in from his pedigree to how he’s done in Training Camp and how he’s grown the last couple of years we’ve had him, it’ll be fun to watch.”
Meanwhile, Samsonov spoke about his start against the Islanders on Thursday with Vogel.
How are you feeling ahead of your first start?
Ilya Samsonov: Oh. I feel okay. I [start] the second game, the next game, I long time wait for this chance. I’m just waiting. [smiles]
Are you nervous?
Ilya Samsonov: Not too much nervous. A good nervous. Feel very well. I’m ready to play. I wait for this chance.
How have you improved from last year?
Ilya Samsonov: I think first my mentality. I’ve changed my psychology. Much more no stress. Play faster. Play square.
Puck handling better?
Ilya Samsonov: In Russia, I didn’t play in puck. They skate a little bit more. I needed help from my team, my defensemen. It’s okay right now, because everybody help with me. Talking every time. Yeah it’s okay right now.
Headline photo: @Capitals
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