Sam's On - Only twice in 47 games this season have the Capitals entered a game having lost each of their two previous outings in regulation, and both of those instances have occurred within the last two weeks. Both times, the Caps faced the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season. And both times, rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov halted Washington's short slide with a solid performance and a victory.
On Monday night at Capital One Arena, Samsonov recorded the first shutout of his NHL career, stopping all 23 shots in a 2-0 Washington win. On Jan. 3 in Carolina, he made a single-game career high 38 saves in a 4-3 victory over the Canes.
Samsonov's Monday night triumph was his eighth in a row, putting him alongside Bob Mason in the Caps' record books. Samsonov and Mason are now co-holders of the franchise record for consecutive victories by a rookie netminder. Mason won eight straight from Dec. 2, 1984 to Jan. 17, 1985, and Samsonov's spree has stretched from Nov. 30 to the present. He has tasted defeat only twice in 15 starts this season - a shootout loss to Arizona on Nov. 11 and a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens four nights later.
"He was excellent obviously, all night," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Samsonov. "And he just continues to grow and get better. Again, the situation we're putting him in, we've lost two in a row, we need a response. It's a situation where if we win in regulation, we win the series against [Carolina] this year in regulation, so there was a lot on this game at home.
"Again, he stepped right up and he was outstanding right from the very beginning."
This One Goes To Eleven - Alex Ovechkin supplied Samsonov with all the offense he would need in the first period, but the Caps' captain went ahead and tacked another one on for good measure near the end of the frame. Ovechkin's first goal of the game was his 27th of the season and No. 685 for his NHL career, moving him out of a tie with Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and into sole possession of 11th place on the NHL's all-time goal scoring ledger.
That first Ovechkin goal also turned out to be the game-winner, the 109th game-winning goal of Ovechkin's career, tying him with Brendan Shanahan for sixth place on the NHL's all-time list. Monday also marked Ovechkin's 139th career multi-goal game, tying him with Marcel Dionne for sixth all-time.
"I thought tonight was his best game in a while," says Reirden. "I just think that their whole line was really effective. I just thought they were really sharp tonight. They weren't forcing things, and they were playing the right way.
"They're such a good line when they get in on the forecheck. It's no fun if you're defenseman and you're thinking about going back for a puck under pressure and it's either Alex Ovechkin or Tom Wilson coming to play it. I think that's something that we have that we have to continue to impose our will on the opposition, and thought they did that tonight, and forced a turnover on Ovi's even-strength goal.
"But I just think he continues to evolve in his leadership. I think he knew tonight was an important game for us, so I thought you saw him go to a different level. To me, that's Alex Ovechkin. He knew we needed something extra from our team tonight. And I thought he was a standout, and had a standout game."
Identity Recovery - A month removed from an otherworldly 22-4-5 start to the 2019-20 season, the Caps had been drifting some over the last few weeks. They entered Monday's game with five losses in their previous nine games, and they needed overtime to defeat Columbus and San Jose at home during that stretch. But in Monday's game against Carolina, the Caps were back on the beam. This was a full 60-minute effort all the way up and down the roster, as the Caps got back to their game and stuck with it throughout the night.
There was a lull in the first half of the second period where the Caps were tasked with killing a spate of penalties, but they trudged through that tall grass and got back to their game the rest of the way.
"Yeah, I think so," responds Ovechkin, asked whether the Caps played more to their identity on Monday than in recent contests. "All four lines today played solid. Obviously Sammy did a great job of keeping us in the game; he made some big saves. And the penalty killers did a good job, especially in the second. We knew [the Canes] were going to make a push, and they did a good job."
"Yeah, definitely," responds Reirden to the identity question. "I just thought we managed the puck so much better; the turnovers were few and far between. And then for me was the start of the game, the first five minutes of the game we played in the offensive zone, we started to establish our identity early, that we're going to put pucks in, and we're coming at you all night. And when we get the puck, we're going to hang on to it and force you to defend. So, that was some of the things we talked about, and the guys did an excellent job."
Leading Men - For much of the first half of the season, the Caps led the league in lead time, the cumulative amount of time spent leading their opponents on the scoreboard. But a stretch in which they yielded the game's first goal in eight of nine and 15 of 20 games put them in an unfamiliar position, where they were chasing the game and often the opposition for most of the night. Monday's win was a refreshing respite from that rigamarole.
"Yeah, it was it was nice," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, of playing with a lead for most of the night. "Certainly one of the parts of our game that's gotten away from us is starting games off. I think we started the year off real good, and kind of gave a few [games] away, but I think that's real important as the season goes along and these games get tighter and tighter. and tonight we had a good start and built on that going forward."
Monday Metro Mania! - In addition to halting their modest two-game slide, Monday's win turned around a couple of other recent sideways trends for the Caps. They won a Monday game for just the second time in seven games (2-4-1) this season, and they evened up their mark against Metropolitan Division opponents (7-7-1). Washington entered Monday's contest with a 3-7-0 record in its previous 10 games against Metro foes.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 23:41 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots and eight shot attempts … Lars Eller and Radko Gudas paced Washington with four hits each … Jonas Siegenthaler led the Capitals with three blocked shots … Evgeny Kuznetsov won four of six draws (67 percent) and Nic Dowd won nine of 14 (64 percent).