Toronto (4-2-1) will be playing the second game of a back-to-back, after beating the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, on Tuesday.
“I mean, he’s a rookie goaltender and finding his way, and I’ve liked how he’s played so far,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said of Samsonov. “Just thought this was the right decision to get him back in for us tonight.
“It’s not a goaltending controversy at this point. Braden is our No. 1 goalie.”
In the final year of his contract, Holtby entered this season the focus of attention, so his early struggles are bringing greater scrutiny. Holtby has a 1-1-2 record with a .846 save percentage, letting in 18 goals on 119 attempts.
Reirden said the team will evaluate after Wednesday’s game to see if Holtby will start on Friday against the New York Rangers, but he will do “what is best for the team,” no matter the decision.
“I think it’s just … I wanted to get a good start and maybe getting a little ahead of myself and, in some ways, trying to push too hard,” Holtby said. “I just need to take a deep breath and go out and play. I mean, it’s seven games in. In a couple months, you won’t remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think can you can do to win?
Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, endured a memorable slump during the 2017-18 season, when he was replaced by Philip Grubauer in net to start the postseason. Holtby then replaced Grubauer in the team’s third playoff game and led the Stanley Cup run.
“Usually it’s just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you’re usually pushing forward too fast and make things (instead) of just letting them come to you. It’s just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and, you know, not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”
Reirden is emphatic his confidence in Holtby has not swayed, and his teammates have backed him as well, with forward T.J. Oshie saying Holtby’s performance in Monday’s loss was one of the least of his concerns.
“Holts is one of the best in the league,” Oshie said. “I don’t think we need to say anything to him. I’m sure he looked at whatever he had to look at and you know he looked good out there today and that is probably the least of my concerns right now is Holts’ game last night. We didn’t give him much help. He’ll be all right.”
The presence of Samsonov, who beat out Pheonix Copley for the backup in training camp, adds intrigue to the situation. Will Holtby’s slow start prompt Reirden and the coaching staff to give more starts Samsonov, considered the Capitals’ goalie of the future? The team wants to be cautious with making sure his development is not rushed, but at the same time, the staff acknowledges they need to do what is best for the team.
“You have a young goaltender and doing the right thing for his development, doing the right thing for our team, doing the right thing for Braden, all of that is all wrapped into one especially within a position that’s so important,” Reirden said. “You treat him as if he’s a normal player but at the same time he’s a goaltender. You can only go so far with that statement because it is a little bit of a different beast.”
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