Ilya Samsonov will start for the Capitals in goal tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette announced the news after the team’s morning skate at Bell Centre.
The start will mark Samsonov’s sixth in 16 opportunities since the start of the new year. He replaced Pheonix Copley in net Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets after the North Pole, Alaska native gave up four goals on 19 shots.
The Capitals enter Thursday’s game against the Habs without their captain Alex Ovechkin (Canadian COVID protocol). They will also be playing a head coach in their first game with their new team for the third time this season.
Wednesday, Montreal fired Dominique Ducharme and hired Hockey Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis as their interim head coach.
The Capitals previously got Game 1 of Gerard Gallant with the New York Rangers (won 5-1) and Game 1 of Dave Lowry with the Winnipeg Jets (won 5-2).
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Laviolette said when asked if the Caps game-planned for the change. “I’ve seen teams come out really hungry and flying high and I’ve seen teams come out and the mood’s been flat. You can never tell. It’s always best to just trust your own team and come out and play and focus on that as opposed to where the opposition’s at and how they’re going to play.
“The tricky part sometimes is the systems. You plan for one thing and do they change it up? We’re moving as business as usual based on what we’ve seen, but we’ve got to be able to make some changes on the bench tonight if we see something different. It’s hard to say. I’m sure it’s worked a whole bunch of different ways on a whole bunch of different coaching changes so it’s best to focus on ourselves.”
During his availability, Carl Hagelin said he believed his former Rangers’ teammate would elicit a “pretty desperate” performance from Montreal. “Usually that happens when there’s a new coach, a new voice that comes in. You know they are going to play hard.”
St. Louis scored 1,033 in his illustrious 1,134-game career. The undrafted, undersized forward turned himself into a star through hard work. St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy twice and the NHL MVP award once during his 17-year career in the NHL. He also helped lead the Lightning to its first Stanley Cup in 2004.
During his opening press conference with reporters, St. Louis spoke to the media about how he wanted to give more freedom to the players, believing more in concepts than rigid systems.
“Systems, you box players into only certain things they can do, and that was probably one of the things I hated the most as a player, is playing in a system,” St. Louis said per NHL.com. “I was a great player when I was allowed to make reads because the best players make the best reads. But if you take the reads out of the equation, those best players become average. So I want to make sure that I allow my best players to make reads, and I’d rather them make a bad one than not making a read at all.”
St. Louis has plans to stick around long-term and wants to earn the title of head coach through the team’s results. The Canadiens, who appeared in the Stanley Cup Final last season, are without Carey Price and are the worst team in the NHL by five points, posting a beyond woeful 8-30-7 record through 45 games. The seventh-placed Capitals (59 standing points) sit 36 points ahead of Montreal (23).
New Habs’ executive vice president of hockey operations, Jeff Gorton, observed St. Louis meet with his players for the first time. He was blown away by the attitude St. Louis brought to the players.
“If you were in our room when he just spoke to the team, you would have had goosebumps, because there’s a certain vibe,” Gorton said. “There’s a certain energy. We should be all feeling it now. He wants this job. We all say ‘interim.’ Well, he’s putting it on the line. He’s coming here. His whole life has been about, ‘I’ll show you,’ and our players felt that in his 10-minute conversation with them an hour ago.”
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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