Ilya Samsonov stood on his head early and late in the game on Friday to help the Capitals earn the 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, their first win over the Hurricanes this season.
Check out a recap of the game here.
Observations from the win
This was Ilya Samsonov's best game yet. The Hurricanes came after him early and poured it on late and he was brilliant. He looked very calm and composed early on which was huge as Carolina fired 18 shots on goal in the first period.
Samsonov is now 8-0-0 on the road. His composure is a huge aspect of his game which is good for a 22-year-old netminder.
So what does this mean? It means that my Twitter will be full of fans who think Samsonov should be the No. 1 over Braden Holtby and should just start every game from here on. It has been an up-and-down season for Holtby for sure and December was not great. Samsonov's numbers this season are better than Holtby's in just about every category.
So where do we go from here?
Samsonov has certainly earned more playing time. There is no question about that. Holtby was on pace to play in 56 games through the first half of the season. Samsonov is playing well enough to eat into that pace for sure.
But I should caution people to lower their expectations in terms of what Samsonov's role is going to be up to April.
There are 40 games left in the season. Barring an injury or a complete collapse, I just do not believe Samsonov is going to start more than half of those games.
This is not just about who is playing better, this is about managing a young goalie. The Caps are leading both the division and the conference and I do not think they see any reason to overwork a young goalie who has never played in more than 37 games in a season or put any undue pressure on him. All bets are off when we get to the playoffs, but the Caps' goalie tandem right now is a luxury and I don't see Samsonov suddenly starting 25-30 of the last 40 games. They don't need him to.
One more quick thought on Samsonov, he was the best player of the game, he was the biggest reason the Caps' won on Friday, but he is not the "missing piece" to beating Carolina. The issue against the Hurricanes is that Washington does not play well against the forecheck. Last I checked, Samsonov is not out there skating against the forecheck.
The third line
What was the Caps' best offensive line on Friday? The third.
This was easily the best we have seen from the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller and Richard Panik trio and they were rewarded in the second period with Panik's fifth goal of the season.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the third line's lack of production this season, but that line continues to improve with more time to work together and this was their best performance. If they can continue to improve over the second half of the season, they will be just fine.
Hagelin on the PK
Hagelin re-signed with the Caps for four years and a cap hit of $2.75 million in the offseason. He is not going to give Washington many goals, but that does not mean he is not worth his contract. He has quickly become the team's best, most important penalty killers and I would put the team's turnaround in that area squarely on Hagelin's shoulders.
Hagelin had 16:06 of ice time in this game and 3:54 of it came with the team down a man.
Stop taking penalties
Carolina had six power-play opportunities. That's too many. This has been a talking point for weeks and it needs to be addressed. Washington simply cannot continue taking this many penalties.
C'mon, this is a penalty
It is my job to cover the Capitals and I try to be as impartial as possible. Having said that, the idea that this should have been a penalty is ludicrous:
The Hurricanes have scored nine shorthanded goals and were looking to make it 10 in the second period as Dougie Hamilton had a breakaway opportunity on the Caps' first power play. As he skated in on net he tried to move to the backhand and go 5-hole. Samsonov was with him the whole way and knocked the puck away with his stick as he stretched out the pads. Washington retrieved the puck and set up the power play, finally converting as John Carlson faked a shot and passed it right to the tape of Evgeny Kuznetsov who tapped the puck in.
The play proved to be a two-goal swing as the Caps took a 2-0 lead instead of giving up a 1-1 tie.
Play of the game
Jakub Vrana finally snapped his goal drought with this beauty of a play.
Stat of the game
Samsonov has not just been good this season, he has been excellent. Here's a stat to prove it.
Quote of the game
Kuznetsov is a big, big fan of Samsonov and thinks there is not enough buzz from around the league over what the rookie netminder has accomplished.
"When Kevin Hart or whatever that goalie from Philly last year was at 8-0, every TV, all the league was talking how good he is, but this guy is probably one of the greatest rookies this year, right? People don't even realize how hard it is be behind Holts because Holts is the best goalie in the league and I believe that he learns a lot from him from the practice. That's the greatest mentor you can ever have, but I think you guys should talk more about how Sammy's good. Don't even hear one word how good he is. Because he's Russian, right?"
Kuznetsov was referencing Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart in the first part of this quote. He went on to say he felt Holtby and Samsonov was the best goalie duo in the league.
The goal-scorers are off, but you nailed the score.
He had one through 40 minutes. Then things got whacky, but that shouldn't take away from his great game.
Not quite. Vrana broke his goal drought, but that was his only point of the night.
That's the spirit!
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- All-Star Game: Reirden named head coach
- Caps-Canes: Samsonov gets a shot
- Ovi to 700?: Biggest storylines to watch