Ilya Samsonov Says He's Ready to Start Whenever Called Upon

Ilya Samsonov says he’s ready to start whenever called upon originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Ilya Samsonov hasn’t played in a Capitals uniform in more than a month, but after two conditioning games in Hershey, he says he’s ready for a return to the NHL game.

After he tested positive for COVID-19 in January, he said he had trouble breathing and walking during the worst parts of his bout with coronavirus. He exercised for the first time 16 days after his initial positive test, which was on Jan. 19. 

“I feel good,” Samsonov said Friday. “Much better. Good experience for me, couple good games and (I got to) see everybody. It was good.”

Samsonov last played on Jan. 17 against the Penguins, just his second appearance of the season. In two games this season, he posted an .868 save percentage with a 3.36 goals against average and seven goals allowed on 53 shots. 

In his absence the Capitals turned to Vitek Vanecek, who has started 13 of the team’s 15 games with a .909 save percentage and a 2.90 GAA. He’s gone 7-3-2 in those starts, of which there hasn’t been much rest for the 25-year-old. Now, though, it appears the Capitals’ No. 1 goaltender — at least, when the season began — will be back between the pipes at some point this weekend.

The Capitals will play the Rangers on Saturday, the Devils on Sunday night and the Penguins on Tuesday in a busy stretch for the team. It’s expected Samsonov will start at least one of those games, though it’s unclear which one.

“I thought he looked good, we weren’t out there very long,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’ll talk to the goalies this afternoon and give somebody the plan for tomorrow, but we’ll talk to them first and go from there.”

Samsonov, 23, was the team’s first-round draft choice in the 2015 NHL Draft and played well in his first NHL action a season ago behind Braden Holtby. The Russian netminder played in 26 games and posted a .913 save percentage with a 2.55 GAA and a 16-6-2 record.

He returned to the Bears this week to get his conditioning back in order after his COVID-19 battle and played in two games, posting a .898 save percentage — though he allowed just one goal in the second of those two games.

“Yeah, first game, I feel it was a little bit hard,” Samsonov said. “First game (was) really hard because game is different than practice, but second game I feel much better. More conditioning.”

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