And so far, including in Monday’s 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena, the Russian has lived up to his billing as the goaltender of the Capitals’ future. Samsonov recorded his first career shutout and the Capitals’ first of the season.
“It’s important for me,” Samsonov said. “First one. Thank you whole team. We play really well. Great [penalty kill]. Awesome job. Every guy is blocking shots. Great game.”
Samsonov, who made 23 saves, has won his past eight starts and is 13-2-1 this season. As his teammates and coaches continue to sing his praises, Samsonov continues to deliver. At 22, Samsonov became the sixth goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout before his 23rd birthday and the first since Holtby did it March 25, 2012.
“He’s playing with some confidence right now,” captain Alex Ovechkin said of Samsonov. “He’s worked hard in practice — same as Holts. I think we have the best two goalies in the league right now, and I think we can see when they feel comfortable, when they feel good, we feel the same.”
Ovechkin supported Samsonov by scoring twice, posting the 685th and 686th goals of his career. The first goal moved Ovechkin into sole possession of 11th place on the all-time list, passing Teemu Selanne. Ovechkin’s second goal — which also came in the first period — moved him within four of tying Mario Lemieux (690) for 10th all time, with Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) also in his sights.
Ovechkin only needed 142 games to get from goal No. 600 to goal No. 685, matching Wayne Gretzky for the fewest number of games to make that leap. Ovechkin has 28 goals this season, and he helped Washington (31-11-5) snap its two-game losing streak. The captain also tallied his 109th game-winning goal, which tied him with Brendan Shanahan for the sixth most in NHL history.
“I thought tonight was his best game in a while,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “I just think that their whole line [Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom] was really effective. I just thought they were really sharp tonight. They weren’t forcing things. They were playing the right way. They’re such a good line when they get in the forecheck.”
Ovechkin’s first tally came at 11:58 of the opening period, when he beat Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek off a slick centering pass from Wilson, who was playing his 500th career game. It gave the Capitals the first goal of the game for only the second time in their past 10 outings.
“Certainly one of the parts of our game that has gotten away from us is starting games off. I think we started the year off real good and kind of gave a few away,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “But I think it is real important as this season goes along and these games get tighter and tighter, and tonight we had a good start and [we can] build on that going forward.”
Ovechkin’s second goal was a snipe from his usual spot on the power play at 17:18 of the first period. His 139 career multigoal games tie him with Marcel Dionne for sixth most in NHL history.
“He knew tonight was an important game for us, so I thought you saw him go to a different level,” Reirden said. “To me that’s Alex Ovechkin. For our team, [he] knew we needed something extra from our team tonight, and I thought he had a standout game.”
While Ovechkin’s second goal, which came during the Capitals’ third power-play chance of the night, showed progress, the tweaked man-advantage unit still struggled overall. The Capitals got four power-play opportunities in the first period, but Ovechkin’s goal was their only shot on net across 6:17 of power-play time. Washington finished with two shots on goal in six power-play chances, including a five-on-three chance late in the third period it could not convert.
The only other negative during the Capitals’ strong first period was a brief scare for defenseman Michal Kempny. Kempny’s left knee appeared to hit the boards hard as he fell awkwardly late in the period, and he was slow to get up. He left the ice without assistance and headed straight to the dressing room. He returned to start the second period and took normal shifts.
Despite the positive of Kempny’s return, the Capitals struggled to create any offense in the second period, letting the Hurricanes control the first 16 minutes. Carolina held a 9-0 advantage in shots on goal and had three power-play chances in that span before Evgeny Kuznetsov got the Capitals’ first shot in the period with 3:50 remaining, ending a drought of 18:52 without one.
The Hurricanes proceeded to get their best chance of the night when defenseman Dougie Hamilton redirected a puck that trickled past Samsonov. It was going wide before Jordan Martinook threw the puck back into the crease, where an alert Samsonov covered it up with 1:47 left in the period.
Samsonov made seven more saves in the third period to secure the victory.
“Just fun to watch him get that first shutout tonight,” Reirden said, “and really another great moment for a guy that, up until the all-star break, has really, really had a great start to his NHL career.”