The Washington Capitals cut Ilya Samsonov loose over the offseason, opting not to tender the talented young netminder a qualifying offer after a career-worst season. Samsonov moved on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing a one-year prove-it deal with the salary cap-strapped team.
Samsonov did not have to wait long for a revenge game against his former team. Thursday, Sammy debuted for Toronto in front of his new home fans and against his old teammates.
Samsonov gave up two goals on his first nine shots but stopped the next 10 he faced, leading the Leafs to their first victory of the season.
After the game, Samsonov posed with the milestone win puck — he later shared the photo on his Instagram Story proudly — and talked about what it was like going up against his comrades from DC.
“A lot of emotion, you know, in the first period,” Samsonov said after the game. “First game with the Leafs for me and with my old team, but you know, I’m enjoying it. We get some smiles right now. We win an important game for us. Everything is good.”
He added that the experience was “unbelievable, the fans were so loud. I really enjoyed playing here.”
As captured by NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger, Samsonov caught up with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the bowels of Scotiabank Arena afterward, but things weren’t as cordial during actual gameplay.
— Mike Zeisberger (@Zeisberger) October 14, 2022
Ovechkin nearly scored on a head-high one-timer in the first period. The puck dinged off the crossbar, however, allowing Samsonov to avoid the indignity of having his name added to Ovi’s already 160-name-long Goalies He’s Scored On list.
Reporters asked Samsonov if Ovi shot harder in the game than in past Capitals practices.
“I think so yeah,” Samsonov said laughing. “He shot pretty good. His puck really quick, hard reaction. I think we got a lot of blocked shots, PK played really good today. My game is much easier that way.”
Samsonov also got a lot of hi’s and hello’s from his former teammates in the crease.
“Even late in the game, during TV timeouts and stuff, I could see some of their players kind of getting in his ear a little bit,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Who knows what they’re talking about?”
“My old teammates, a lot of talking with me today,” Samsonov said. “Lots of bad words. That’s fine.”
Samsonov said he found his rhythm after being beaten by Marcus Johansson on a shot that squeaked through his body, 13:52 into the first period.
Rip it gooood pic.twitter.com/ye6mekhoJL
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 14, 2022
“After the second goal, a little bit of a wake-up call for me,” Samsonov said. “I needed to do [something] a little bit different. A little bit nervous. It’s hard when you get nervous, your reaction is slow, you’re moving bad, but after this, I played better and we got unbelievable work [done] today.”
In the end, Samsonov had the last laugh as Auston Matthews deflected a point shot just enough past Charlie Lindgren in the third period to give the Leafs the 3-2 lead. Samsonov made 24 saves and had the same save percentage as the Caps’ new backup (.923).
“Happy for him to get the win and he did his job tonight to keep it at two,” Keefe said.
“Thank you, guys,” Samsonov said. “Thank you, defencemen. Thank you, fans. I am so happy.”
Screenshot courtesy of the Leafs
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