4 Big Questions for the Washington Capitals in 2020-21

The Washington Capitals. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Ilya Samsonov #30 of the Washington Capitals (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

1. Can Ilya Samsonov handle the pressure?

The Washington Capitals, as mentioned before, parted ways with veteran goaltender Braden Holtby after a 10-year relationship that featured some ups and some downs, but will always have a Stanley Cup ring. While this breakup will surely be difficult to get over for the organization, they’re not completely hopeless at the goalie position, as there’s a young super-athlete ready to tap into his superstar potential. His name is Ilya Samsonov.

Selected 22nd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-foot-3 Russian goaltender made his debut in the 2019-20 season as a 22-year old. In his rookie year, he played in 26 games, starting in 22 of said games, posting 16 wins, 6 losses, 2 overtime losses, and a shutout while recording a 2.55 Goals-Against Average and a Save Percentage of .913%.

While these numbers are undoubtedly promising, it is but a small sample size for what Samsonov can do in the NHL. With Holtby gone, the young Russian native will have a considerable increase in playing time now that he’s the official starter for the Washington Capitals. In his rookie season, he proved to be capable of handling a heavy payload in the NHL, but being a goalie in this league is about more than stopping the puck. Capitals fans are perhaps the hardest ones to please when it comes to goaltenders, as they tend to bite the hardest in the playoffs.

Braden Holtby, a Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion, received immense criticism for his lack of consistency when needed the most. The biggest question for Ilya Samsonov is if he’s ready for that pressure or not.

The Washington Capitals’ window for winning Stanley Cups is closing, and it’s up to the young goalie to be the backbone of this team as they try to give captain Alex Ovechkin another ring before his time is up. Due to a suspect defense headed into the 2020-21 NHL season, Ilya Samsonov will have to prove that he’s the guy for the job simply because there’s nobody else who can.

Ilya Samsonov #30
Ilya Samsonov #30 of the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

In place of Holtby, the Capitals signed future HOF goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, in free agency after his time came to an end with the New York Rangers. This move was to provide Samsonov with a veteran leader to help mentor him in his first season as a starter while also providing much-needed depth at the position.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, Lundqvist received brutal news that he’ll have to miss the entirety of the NHL season due to a heart condition. It was recently announced that the legendary netminder underwent successful open-heart surgery which is astounding news for him.

If the Capitals cannot find a veteran goalie to provide depth behind Samsonov, it’s going to be a very long season for both the young goaltender and the rest of the team. However, because of the shortened schedule of just 56-games as opposed to the regular 82-game seasons, this may prove to be a blessing for Ilya Samsonov as it shortens his workload significantly.

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At the end of the day, Samsonov has hefty expectations by the fans to get this team back into another deep playoff run. If he’s able to improve upon a strong rookie year in 2019-20, the Washington Capitals will at least have their future star in between the pipes. If he can’t handle the work and stress from the starting job, however, this season could be far worse than expected for this franchise.