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Samsonov's stellar performance helps Caps halt short slide, Vrana breaks goal drought, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

This One Goes To Eleven - Ilya Samsonov has shown remarkable poise early in his NHL career, shaking off virtually every hint of adversity. He did so again on Friday night in Raleigh, making 38 saves - 18 of them in the first period - to earn his 11th win of the season (11-2-1), a 4-3 triumph over the Hurricanes in Raleigh.

In his previous start, Samsonov defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in his first career start against the Jackets, after the Caps had dropped their first two games of the season against Columbus. On Friday against the Canes, he repeated the feat, defeating a Metro rival in his first career start after Carolina had twice defeated Washington in 2019-20.

Samsonov faced a fairly steady fusillade of shots from the Canes - especially in the first and third periods - and he was also assessed a pretty harsh minor penalty for embellishment, a coincidental minor that came when Nino Niederreiter was also boxed for goaltender interference.

None of it fazed him. He stopped all 18 shots he faced in the first and was at his best in the middle of the frame when he was frequently under siege; the Caps went more than nine minutes without registering a shot on net of their own in the middle of the first.

Samsonov and the Caps took a 2-0 lead to the third, and Carolina cut into it in the first minute of the third, getting a Jordan Staal deflection goal just 39 seconds in. Carolina also scored a pair of power-play goals in the third, but Samsonov never gave up a goal that would put his team behind, and his demeanor often indicates an obliviousness to the score or what else is happening around him. Carolina generates a lot of net front traffic and it pours shots on net from all angles, but to Samsonov, it was just another game, just another opponent.

Video: Postgame | January 3

"He is 11-0 [actually, 8-0] on the road," says Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov of Samsonov. "When Carter Hart - that goalie from Philly last year - was 8-0, every TV [reporter] and all the league was talking about how good he is. But this guy is probably one of the greatest rookies this year, right?

"People don't even realize how hard there it is to be behind [Braden Holtby] because Holts is the best goalie in the league and. And I believe that he has learned a lot from him from the practice, and that's the greatest mentor you can ever have, but I think you guys should talk more about how Sam is good. I don't even hear one word, how good he is, right?"

Samsonov has won 11 of his first 12 starts in the NHL, and each of the first eight road starts of his career, becoming only the second goaltender in league history to achieve that feat. Samsonov is the only goaltender ever to win his first eight road starts in the same season; ex-Cap Brent Johnson - who started his career with St. Louis - won the first 11 road starts of his career for the Blues, but they were scattered over multiple seasons.

Even Kuznetsov is unsure of where Samsonov's unflappability comes from.

"I don't know, maybe just because it's his first year, and everything is new for him and every day is a new challenge," says Kuznetsov. "Every day, he's facing some things that he never faced maybe before, and sometimes it's even better when kind of know when you have to expect it. And for him every day is a new challenge. Like I said, I believe that he's got the greatest mentor Holts in front of him, and he's learning a lot. Maybe he doesn't say that to him, but you know I'm around him a lot and he's always learning from Holts. I think that's the best duo in the league right now."

Water In The Desert - Jakub Vrana scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal in the third period of Friday's game, finishing off a Kuznetsov feed to score a back door rush goal. The tally ended a 10-game goal drought for Vrana, who now has 16 goals on the season. All 16 of Vrana's goals have come at even strength, and he ranks fifth in the circuit in 5-on-5 tallies. 

Video: WSH@CAR: Vrana knocks in Kuznetsov's great dish

Stick It - Caps center Nic Dowd incurred a 10-minute misconduct at the buzzer of the first period. He somehow came into possession of Andrei Svechnikov's stick in the midst of a mild skirmish, and rather than return it, he elected to toss it over the glass.

Although nearly half the game still remained when Dowd returned from serving his sentence, he was deployed sporadically the rest of the way, logging only 30 seconds of 5-on-5 time and 84 seconds worth of shorthanded duty over the final two periods.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears earned a 6-2 road win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night in the first game of a busy weekend in which the Bears will play three games in as many days.

After falling down 1-0 early, Hershey reeled off five straight goals to take control of the contest.

At 13:51 of the first, Brian Pinho scored his seventh goal of the season, an unassisted tally that tied the game at 1-1. The game stayed 1-1 into the second, when Hershey erupted for four goals.

Garrett Pilon netted his seventh of the season at 1:04 of the middle stanza, getting help from Mike Sgarbossa and Joe Snively. Less than two minutes later, Eddie Wittchow scored what would prove to be the game-winner, his second of the season from Liam O'Brien and Brett Leason. Pinho netted his second of the game to make it 4-1 Bears at 5:27, Philippe Maillet and Wittchow assisting. Maillet closed out the second period scoring with his sixth of the season on a Hershey power play at 18:45, with help from Matt Moulson and Bobby Nardella.

With 3:24 remaining in regulation, O'Brien scored his seventh of the season into a vacated Baby Pens net with help from Alex Alexeyev and Pinho, accounting for the 6-2 final.

Vitek Vanecek made 30 saves in the Hershey nets to improve to 11-5-1 on the season.

The Bears are back in action on Saturday night at Giant Center when they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Bears and Sound Tigers will also clash on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.

Hershey is now 19-10-2-3 on the season, tied with Providence for second place in the AHL's Atlantic Division. The Bears have played two fewer games than the P-Bruins, and both teams trail front-running Hartford by four points.

Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays absorbed a rare regulation loss on Friday night, dropping a 1-0 decision to the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum.

The Stingrays were outshot 29-24, and South Carolina goaltender Logan Thompson made 28 saves in absorbing a hard luck loss that drops his record to 11-3-1-0 on the season.

South Carolina hosts Florida in a Saturday night rematch. The 23-3-3-1 Stingrays own the ECHL's best record, and they hold a six-point lead over the second-place Everblades in the South Division. The Stingrays hold two games in hand on Florida.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:11 in ice time … Radko Gudas led Washington with a whopping 6:20 in shorthanded ice time while Carl Hagelin's 3:54 paced the Caps' forwards in penalty killing duty … Vrana and Carlson led the Caps with four shots on net each, and Carlson's seven shot attempts led Washington … Tom Wilson led the Caps with three hits … Carlson, Wilson and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with two blocked shots each … Alex Ovechkin assisted on Lars Eller's power-play goal, extending the captain's point streak to five games (two goals, three assists) … The Capitals won only 22 of 58 face-offs (38 percent) in Friday's game.

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