Making his first career start, Ilya Samsonov stopped 25 of 26 shots to pick up his first NHL victory, a 2-1 triumph over the New York Islanders in Uniondale on Friday night. The victory enables the Caps to come home with four points from their season-opening two-game road trip against a pair of formidable foes.
"I thought he played great," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Samsonov's debut. "He looked very comfortable in there. I'm not surprised; that's how he has looked this year in particular since he has returned. In practice just the composure that he has, the confidence that he gives the bench; he definitely looks the part and was the part for sure tonight.
"Bad bounce that goes off one of our players into the net, otherwise he is rock solid. So that was a great first game for me for a highly touted prospect, especially playing that position. That was a real strong game."
Video: Oshie, Samsonov lift Capitals to 2-1 victory
As is typical for recent vintage Caps-Islanders meetings, there wasn't much to be had in the way of time and space at either end of the ice. Washington was able to jump out to the lead on the strength of a good breakout that created some of that elusive time and space for one of their most gifted forwards.
Radko Gudas got hold of the puck deep in Washington ice and pushed it along to Lars Eller. Eller fed Jakub Vrana in neutral ice, sending the winger into New York territory on his off wing, on a 2-on-1 rush. From just above the right dot, Vrana beat Semyon Varlamov with a wrister at 10:25 of the first to stake the visiting Caps to a 1-0 lead.
"I just saw I have an opportunity to kind of get my speed," says Vrana, "I saw an open space, and Lars found me there. It created a 2-on-1, and I just tried to shoot it, and it went in. I'm happy for that."
Video: WSH@NYI: Vrana wires shot past Varlamov on the rush
New York evened the score just over two minutes later, benefiting from a series of fortuitous bounces. From the left half wall, Isles defenseman Devon Toews tried to execute a quick cross-ice pass. Instead, the puck bounded off the skate blades of three separate Washington defenders, the last of which was Gudas. Samsonov extended his left pad in a desperate attempt to kick it out, but the puck dribbled between his boot blade and the right post, tying the game at 1-1 at 12:27.
After a penalty-free first, special teams came to the fore in the second. Chandler Stephenson had a breakaway try on a Washington penalty kill, but couldn't break the tie. Tom Wilson hit the post squarely soon afterwards, but the Caps didn't have an official shot on goal for more than 12 and a half minutes from the outset of the second.
When New York's Brock Nelson was boxed for the second time in the period late in the middle frame, the Caps took advantage to restore their lead.
Video: WSH@NYI: Oshie roofs power-play goal from his knees
From the goal line along the right wing wall, Nicklas Backstrom found John Carlson out at the right point. Carlson put a shot toward the net, and Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield blocked it in the high slot. T.J. Oshie located the puck first, and from his knees fired a backhander under the crossbar at 17:43, the Caps' second power-play goal in as many games. It proved to be the game-winner.
"[The Islanders] were playing pretty passive, I think, after [Alex Ovechkin] got a look or two," recounts Oshie. "So Johnny made a good read and just threw the puck in. They did a good of fronting it; I actually got a tip on it but it hit their skates and was lying there. It's kind of a 'hope for' play when the puck is rolling like that. You just swipe it and try to get it elevated. No idea exactly where it's going, though."
Throughout the third, the Caps kept their foot on the gas. They were crisp and efficient with their exits, they were diligent at getting pucks deep, and they were consistently tenacious on the forecheck. New York didn't manage its first shot on net until the seventh minute of the period, and only two of the Isles' eight shots in the third came from top six forwards, with one of those coming in the game's final minute.
"It's a difficult building to come into any time of the year, especially opening night," says Reirden. "They come hard, and I thought our guys for the most part stayed the course through different ebbs and flows of the game. We had contributions from everyone right up and down our lineup - obviously not with offensive numbers, but with real solid shifts - and helped to turn the momentum of the game a couple of times."