Silky Sam - Of the 30 players chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Caps goaltender Ilya Samsonov was the last to make his debut. The first goaltender chosen in the draft that year, Samsonov went to Washington with the 22nd overall pick. Four of the goaltenders drafted after Samsonov in 2015 have already debuted in the league, combining for 22 wins in 53 appearances.
By the time the 22-year-old Samsonov took his place in the crease on Friday night in Uniondale against the New York Islanders, he was a veteran of 73 KHL games and 37 AHL contests. One thing is certain about Samsonov: he doesn't rattle easily. After making 25 saves to earn his first NHL win over the Isles, Samsonov was in front of cameras gamely answering questions in his second language when he faced a shot he couldn't stop - a heaping, healthy shaving cream pie to the face from a teammate. But Samsonov hardly even reacted. He calmly finished his answer before beginning to peel the burning white foam away from his eyes.
The lone goal the Islanders could muster against him clanked off three different Caps' skates en route to the back of the net, and even then, Samsonov nearly kept it out with a desperate left pad kick. It's just one game, and he is very much a work in progress, but the raw tools are there.
"He is obviously athletic, he has the presence," says Caps GM Brian MacLellan. "It's just about learning some things. He looks patient, he looks big, he looks like takes up a lot of the net, and he is competitive. He has a lot of those attributes scouts want, and I think it's just a matter of figuring it out. How do I play calm? How do I not be too aggressive or too confident? And I think that will come quick."
"He was great," says Caps winger T.J. Oshie, whose second-period power-play goal proved to be the game-winner. "He was pretty calm. It looked like there were a couple of jitters, on maybe on an icing play that they didn't wave off that they maybe could have. But he looked solid.
"He looked like he was comfortable in there, and he made a couple of big saves when they broke us down a little bit. So a great win for him. The boys were fighting hard for him; the guys were up on the bench letting him know every time he made a good play. So it was good to see, and we're happy for him."
This Party Sucks - The Caps started the season with a daunting two-game road trip, starting in St. Louis against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues and moving on to Long Island to face the Islanders, a 103-point team a season ago that finished just a point behind Washington for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings.
For both the Blues and the Islanders, those games were the home and season openers, typically a source of boundless adrenaline for teams. But the Caps were able to weather an early storm in St. Louis; after falling down 2-0 before the eight-minute mark of the first, Washington skated off with a 3-2 overtime win. On Friday, the Caps never trailed in a 2-1 win over the Isles, as they spoiled a second straight opening night celebration in a span of three nights.
This marks the first time in their 45-season NHL existence that the Caps have opened with two or more road games and have won the first two; they've been in position to do so six times over the years. But even winning two straight road games is a difficult task early in the season when you're likely to encounter an opponent's home opener (or two, or three); the Caps have won their first two road games of the season just eight times in those 45 seasons.
As defending Cup champs themselves last season, the Capitals yielded a total of 13 goals in their first two road games, losing both. This time around, they've whittled that goals against total down to a stingy three.
Bottoms Up - Washington's bottom six forward group features several new faces this season, and building chemistry generally takes some time. The Caps' bottom six wasn't particularly strong in St. Louis on Wednesday, but that group rebounded and turned in an excellent performance on Friday, accounting for 12 of Washington's 28 shots on net while driving possession and occupying the offensive zone.
They were especially good in the third when Washington was aiming to protect a one-goal lead. The Caps held the Isles without a shot on net for nearly seven minutes at the start of the period, and most of the shots the Isles did muster in the third weren't threatening. Only two came from New York's top six forward group, and one of those came in the game's final minute.
"Yeah, they played great by winning those battles and really bringing energy to the team and it's so important," says Caps winger Jakub Vrana. "And [they were] blocking shots and the PK was great, and that's huge. It's winning us games."
Washington was aggressive and tenacious in the third, and the third and fourth lines were leading the charge in that regard.
"I liked our third because we're just playing a lot more of a skating game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Now with our personnel, with our summer that we had, in terms of training properly, we are able to be a lot more aggressive on pucks, force turnovers, and really put some heat on the opposition. We didn't sit back. We didn't sit back in that third period, we went after them, and we were trying to score the next one. We had some really good opportunities where they made some good saves, but I liked our third period and though we carried the play for the better part of it."
Both Sides Now - After scoring the game-winning goal in overtime on a drive down the left side on opening night in St. Louis, Vrana scored the game's first goal in Friday's win over the Islanders. This time he tore into New York ice on the right side of the rink, scoring from just above the right dot.
Which got us to wondering if he prefers firing from one side over the other, as some players do.
"Actually, not really," replies Vrana. "I kind of like to shoot from both sides."
By The Numbers - John Carlson led Washington with 24:05 in ice time … Carl Hagelin led the Caps with five shots on goal; he and Lars Eller paced the team with six shot attempts each … Alex Ovechkin and Martin Fehervary led Washington with four hits each … Carlson led the Caps with three blocked shots … Eller won seven of nine draws (78 percent), Nic Dowd won three of four (75 percent) and Chandler Stephenson won 11 of 17 (65 percent).