The Washington Capitals jettisoned their young goaltending tandem this past offseason as they non-tendered former first-round pick Ilya Samsonov and traded former second-round pick Vitek Vanecek.
The two goalies and former close friends in Hershey quickly moved on to new teams as Samsonov signed a free-agent deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vanecek settled into the starting spot in the New Jersey Devils net.
Despite being on Eastern Conference teams, Sammy and Vitek avoided a direct matchup against one another until Tuesday night. The Leafs and Devils did battle inside Prudential Center and Samsonov came out on top in a 4-3 victory.
Samsonov made 30 stops on 33 shots against in his 23rd win of the season. He was especially spectacular in a shutout first period that saw New Jersey top Toronto in shots 15 to 4.
Vanecek took just his seventh regulation loss with New Jersey.
“It’s perfect,” Samsonov said postgame. “It’s first time we play against together. It’s a good opportunity for me and for him. A nice battle today. He’s got a lot of good saves too. Just enjoy. We still the friends. He’s such a nice guy and he’s good goalie.
“Good start for New Jersey but we not surprised,” he continued. “Sheldon said in meeting, don’t be surprised of speed and volume of shots. A lot of shots will be. Not surprise for us. We just try to do good defense and I just do my work.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was very complimentary of his young netminder, touching on that early performance in particular. Samsonov has stopped 12.3 more goals than expected this season when Keefe has gone to him in net.
“I thought he was really good,” Keefe said. “There were a couple of really tough shots early in the game that he came up big on. Certainly, Jersey was carrying play through the first period there. We were able to tighten up defensively to the point that we kept it to the outside with perimeter shots and shots from distance at the top. I thought he was solid there.”
It was a night that started out in a much worse way for Samsonov as he left the ice in the middle of warmups after taking a shot from William Nylander. It turns out that shot rang Sammy’s sammies.
“Shoot for the balls,” Samsonov said when asked what happened. “I’m goalie for a long time. Sometimes we have this and sometimes it’s a shoot to the head. It’s not special, yeah. Guys try to do warmup. I don’t worry about this and just think about game.”
On the flip side of the equation, Vanecek has struggled in recent games for the Devils.
The 27-year-old Czech has a .821 save percentage and has stopped 5.2 fewer goals than expected in his last five starts.
New Jersey is still 3-2 in those games and Vanecek has 27 victories on the season. He is one of three former Caps prospect netminders to record at least 20 wins in the 2022-23 campaign, joining Samsonov (23) and Pheonix Copley (20).
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.