Washington Capitals should start Ilya Samsonov now

Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Washington Capitals are 3-1-2 on this young season. With rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov responsible for two of those wins, they should make him the starter.

We’re only two short weeks into the season and it’s crazy to hit the panic button on any team’s start. However, one thing you can argue so far this year is that the Washington Capitals should start rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov now instead of their current starter Braden Holtby.

Holtby is in a contract year and let’s face it, so far he isn’t doing much to entice the Caps or any other team to send him an offer as their starting goalie. Except maybe Columbus who will take just about anyone at this point in the season.

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Meanwhile, Samsonov has done the complete opposite, albeit in only two starts so the sample size is small. However, the way he has played in those two games is very notable. Samsonov has only allowed a single goal in both his two starts, with the first goal scored on him being a seeing-eye shot that caromed off of four guys to find the back of the net.

Don’t get me wrong. Holtby’s career isn’t over by a long shot. He could be the starting goalie for many teams in the NHL.

What I’m suggesting is that currently Holtby’s game is off and the Caps need to give him the time to get right. Also, if Samsonov is the goalie of the future for Washington, then getting him some more starts is critical. They have a serviceable backup in Phoenix Copley already.

If you already have your goalie of the future, the best thing to do in my opinion is to talk to Holtby, find out where he is willing to go, and work out a deal to get him there. Get him on a sign and trade similar to what the St. Louis Blues did with Justin Faulk and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Midseason deals are tough, but in the NHL where goaltending is worth a mint, getting the most you can for Holtby now is the best move. Samsonov will have his rookie hiccups, but after seeing him in two starts, I’m convinced this kid has what it takes to carry a team.

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The Capitals too seem to play better in front of him defensively. I don’t know why this happens in the NHL, but it seems like some goalies have the ability to get the guys to play better in front of them.

You saw it in St. Louis with Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen. The team defense was vastly better in front of Binnington than it was with Allen in goal. So far, this appears to be the same kinda situation we’re experiencing in Washington.

Holtby’s stats have begun to decline since his years as a perennial candidate for the Vezina with the last one he came close to sniffing was in 2016-17 when he finished second in the voting.

2017-18 was Holtby’s worst season and yet they won the Stanley Cup. Largely because of Holtby’s play in the playoffs.

His GAA was slightly better in 2018-19 at 2.82 and SV% of .911 compared to 2.99 and .907 during the championship season. Currently, his GAA is an atrocious 3.67 with a SV% of .868. This won’t hold up for the entire season of course.

If the Capitals want to seize another Stanley Cup during the Ovi era then they need to make sure they have some picks in the pipeline to replenish the starting line up. The best way to get those is to trade a high paid player for prospects and younger players with promise.

Samsonov is very young at 22. He has what appears to be a bright future. I think he is ready now. As for Holtby, there is a stat that I find interesting and helpful. It’s the GSAA. Goals Saved Above Average.

According to this stat Holtby last year saved 1.79 goals per shot attempts and league save percentage. This suggests that Holtby is still an above-average goaltender and, aside from the championship season, he has performed well above the league average mark.

However, his GSAA has been declining in recent seasons, which to me becomes another reason they should try to trade him now and hand it over to Samsonov.

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I have been and still am a Holtby fan. He’s been a class player in the NHL and deserves all the respect he has earned. The NHL is a business at the end of the day, and like all businesses, you have to continue to grow and update. The Capitals have their future in Ilya Samsonov. Time to start using him.