Call it just another chapter in the progression of a rookie goaltender, the type of night that fuels hope that Samsonov is the Capitals’ goalie of the future. Samsonov made 29 saves, tested mostly early in the contest and late, when Toronto drew within a goal and was pushing for an equalizer.
“It was a good game for him, and it was a really good game for a young goaltender because things probably didn’t go exactly the way he wanted in the first and he made an adjustment,” Reirden said. “He made an adjustment. And for a young goaltender to make that adjustment in game with the amount of motion that he had in his game in the first, he completely settled down and let pucks again start to hit him. He was big. He was the presence.”
The victory may have come with a heavy cost, however. Teammates Jonas Siegenthaler and Richard Panik collided with 23 seconds left in the second period. Siegenthaler left the ice holding his left shoulder. Neither player returned, and the Capitals said both suffered upper-body injuries and will be reevaluated Thursday.
The Capitals (4-2-2) overcame a 2-0 deficit with four consecutive goals — including a three-goal flurry in a 1:18 span early in the second period — to gain a two-goal advantage entering the third.
John Tavares’s tally with 2:33 left trimmed it to one, but Samsonov didn’t allow anything else past him to collect his third win.
Reirden said he wasn’t concerned after his team allowed an early goal, saying the group had “no panic” and that it was just a matter of time before his players broke through.
“It is easy to maybe feel a little deja vu action happening,” John Carlson said of the early two-goal deficit. “And you know we didn’t want to be where we were and having the meetings that we had and everything that we worked on. Everyone responded really well, and maybe we don’t have to have those meetings again tomorrow.”
The Capitals found their offensive footing after the first intermission. Most of Washington’s core leaders got involved, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring at the 5:07 mark to tie the game, Nicklas Backstrom scoring 11 seconds later and Carlson beating Toronto goalie Michael Hutchinson on the power play with 6:25 gone in the period.
Carlson finished with a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in eight games, the first defenseman in franchise history to get off to such a torrid start.
“He’s playing really well, and that was something that we talked about this summer with the departure of some other guys and his leadership back there,” Reirden said. “He’s a guy that does say things during the game. He does say things on the bench. He does say things in the locker room, and he lets his play do the talking.”
As for the team’s goaltending, Reirden said earlier in the day that Holtby remains “our No. 1 goalie,” but the coach was pleased with the rookie’s play in relief of Holtby during Monday’s 6-3 loss to Colorado, when the veteran allowed three goals in the first eight minutes of the contest.
Samsonov proved himself worthy of his coach’s confidence.
The Capitals continued to struggle in the neutral zone, leading to goals from Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen 4:37 into the first period and Ilya Mikheyev at 10:58. It was the third time this season that the Capitals have allowed a goal on an opponent’s first shot. Kapanen’s goal, which was shorthanded, came directly off a neutral-zone turnover. Mikheyev was able to catch Siegenthaler flat-footed in the neutral zone and beat Samsonov on a breakaway.
Forward Jakub Vrana cut the Capitals’ deficit in half late in the first period, scoring a slick one-timer from the right circle off a cross-ice pass from Carlson. It was Vrana’s third goal.
“We needed that first one, right? To get us started and we had a couple of good chances before that,” Vrana said. “It’s a good start and gave us some energy to go into the second [period].”
Vrana, who was pushed down to the third line, hadn’t scored since he recorded goals in each of the season’s first two contests. Reirden had expressed his displeasure in Vrana’s play the past few games, but the winger delivered Wednesday. Moments before the Capitals’ three-goal flurry in the second period pushed the Capitals ahead for good, Vrana had a good chance on the power play, but his shot found the post and kicked out.
Meanwhile, the loss of Siegenthaler and Panik could have roster ramifications. Siegenthaler was part of a defensive unit already without Michal Kempny (hamstring), and his departure left Washington with only five healthy defensemen for the remainder of the game. Panik, an offseason addition to help bolster the bottom-six, has recorded zero points through eight games.