“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but
by the responsibility for our future.”
-- George Bernard Shaw
First it was his net, then it wasn’t, then it was again, then it wasn’t, then…who knows? And that was just last season for Washington Caps goaltender Ilya Samsonov. He went into the 2020-2021 season in his first year as the Caps’ number one goalie (with a Henrik Lundqvist safety net), lost his status to Vitek Vanecek when he went into COVID protocol after appearing in two games,
He played in 17 of 31 games upon his return and performed reasonably well (12-4-0, one no-decision, 2,60, .906, 2 shutouts), was suspended for missing a teammeeting AND going into COVID protocol a second time, missed the first two games of the opening round playoff series against Boston, and wrapped up his chaotic season with three losses to the Bruins to end the Caps’ season. Not exactly the log of a goalie a team is depending on to be the number one goalie for the foreseeable future.
Odd Samsonov Fact… Among rookie goaltenders in franchise history appearing in 25 or more games for the Caps, only Michal Neuvirth had a better save percentage (.914 in 2010-2011) than Samsonov had in his rookie year (.913 in 2018-2019).
Odd Samsonov Fact II… Samsonov won 16 games as a rookie. That is more wins in his rookie season than Dominik Hasek in two rookie status years (13 in 25 games in 1990-1991/1991-1992).
Fearless’ Take… He has the talent. Five of his 19 appearances last season ended with save percentages over .950. He didn’t lose consecutive games in the regular season. He handled high shot volume games well (5-1-0, 2.85, .916 in 30-plus shot games). For Samsonov it is a matter of improving consistency, not a lack of potential.
Cheerless’ Take… Buttering a turd doesn’t make it a tasty biscuit, cuz. Last season, Samsonov had 11 games with save percentages under .900 out of 19 appearances. His even strength save percentage fell off a cliff from the 2020-2021 season (from .923 to .909). His career trend has been to start fast (save percentages over .910 through January games) but fading down the stretch (only one month – March – out of the last four in which he has a career save percentage over .900). And, he has yet to beat Pittsburgh in his career. Sure, it’s only two seasons, but the Pens are the only Metropolitan Division tea he has yet to beat (0-2-1, 3.27, .884).
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…
- 100 career games played (currently 45)
- 50 career wins (29)
- 4,000 career minutes (2,504)
The Big Question… Is llya Samsonov the real deal or all paper potential?
With apologies to fans of Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov is who the Caps are banking on ($2.0 million this year and arbitration eligible restricted free agency after this season). Vanecek could prove to be a good backup, perhaps a very good one, but Samsonov is the number one. He has a decent career record for a goalie with two years of experience (29-10-3, 2.61, .908, three shutouts). But on the other hand, Samsonov will turn 25 In February. He is entering his chronological prime, and he needs to step up and prove he is worthy of the praise he has received about his potential to date. What complicates the matter for him is that he will be missing two veteran defensemen playing in front of him last season (Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon), Trevor van Riemsdyk, Martin Fehervary, Matt Irwin, and a rehabilitated Michal Kempny are among the possibilities to fill in. Even under the best of circumstances, it would take some getting used to with a third of the defense being replaced. Samsonov will have to shoulder more of the burden as the last line of defense.
In the end…
We are getting to the “fish or cut bait” portion of Samsonov’s career. Odd to say for a goalie with just two years and fewer than 50 regular season games on his resume, but the clock is ticking on the Capitals’ window of competitiveness and will not wait for Samsonov to mature. And that includes off-ice as well as on-ice conduct. Given his brief history, a fast start would not be surprising, but it would not necessarily be what to watch for. His season finishes have been poor, although last year’s double bout with COVID-related issues might have played a role in his weak finish. Nevertheless, how he performs in the second half could be the critical factor in whether the Caps make their 14th playoff appearance in the last 15 years.
Projection: 53 games, 27-17-6, 2.52, .914, 1 shutout