Ilya Samsonov contracted COVID-19 in mid-January and is still somewhat feeling the effects of it two months later.
Despite that, the Russian goaltender has refound the top of his game and will start against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night, marking only his fifth NHL start this season and his third since appearing in four games with the Hershey Bears for conditioning.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 11, 2021
“To my eyes and watching him, even in the skate this morning here, I thought he looked really good, really sharp,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The summer probably didn’t go the way he wanted (reported ATV injury). The fall probably didn’t go the way he wanted. The start of the season probably didn’t go the way he wanted. Just based on what he was dealing with from injury and then the protocol that he had to go through. I do feel like we were patient, trying to put him in the right position so that he could be successful. It’s been a good showing so far.”
In Samsonov’s last start on Sunday, the Russian stopped 36 of 37 shots against Philadelphia, the second-most saves he’s made in a game in his career.
Sammy earned one of the ninja headbands after the game.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 8, 2021
“I was playing couple of game in Hershey,” Samsonov said. “Here with Flyers, I feel much better right now. Better shape. Everything is good.”
He added this is the best he’s felt mentally and physically in a long time. “Yes, yes. I think I’m 100 percent ready right now. Good shape. Shoulders, not hurts, nothing. Neck is good too. I’m so happy. Feel ready.”
In previous interviews, Samsonov was open about how difficult his bout was with COVID-19. The goaltender revealed that he had trouble walking and breathing. He gave more details of what his recovery has been like since returning to the Capitals.
“It was really bad sick with COVID,” Samsonov said. “It was really hard recovery. I have a problem with the breathing, so hard. After 40 minutes practice, you feel so tired. Hard breathing. But right now, I feel more and more better every day.”
How Samsonov will fit in and how much he’ll start moving forward is less clear. Vitek Vanecek, after being slated to be the third goaltender on the depth chart this season, has played well this season as the team’s primary starter in an emergency and won the NHL’s Rookie of the Month during January.
“There’s no real plan,” Laviolette said earlier this week. “I feel like Vitek has been here for us. He’s kind of established himself from Day One where other pieces that we’ve had in place have not been available to us, going all the way back to Henrik (Lundqvist), going back to Samsonov coming out and taking some time off in a way. So Vitek’s been a guy that’s been there. He’s been reliable. He’s done a good job. He’s given us a chance to win hockey games. I thought last game was Samsonov’s best performance that he’s had. He made some really good saves. He made some big saves when the score was 2-1 on backdoor plays when he got his leg across. So I thought he looked really sharp, which was a real positive.
“So there’s no real plan. It was nice to see Samsonov have that game in Philadelphia and we’ll be looking to get him some more starts as well. But I don’t think there’s a real plan per se that this guy is going to take 70 percent of games, this guy’s going to take 30 percent. I think we’ll probably just move day-to-day here.”
As for Samsonov, he has only one focus.
“Right now… I just play hockey.”
It’s been a long time coming.
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