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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 10/4

Caps start back-to-back set vs. Metro foes, Kempny unlikely to play this wekeend, Samsonov set to make NHL debut, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

I'm On An Island - The Caps finish up a two-game road trip on Friday night on Long Island, facing Barry Trotz's Islanders in the first of 28 contests against their fellow Metropolitan Division denizens this season. The Isles finished just a point behind Washington for the top spot in the division last season.

Friday's game also starts the Caps' first set of back-to-back games this season; they'll return home immediately after to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday in another Metro skirmish.

Know Your Enemy - Last season's four-game regular season series of contests between the Caps and the Islanders made for interesting hockey, given that Trotz had coached the Caps to a Stanley Cup title the previous spring, and Todd Reirden ascended to that position in Washington after Trotz's departure.

Players on both sides remarked that it was almost like playing an intrasquad game, given the similar styles and systems deployed by both teams in 2018-19. But a with that season behind us now and with some roster turnover on both sides, perhaps we can expect the two teams to diverge a bit more going forward.

"Yeah, I think so," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "I think both teams still base themselves on the same ideas, but whenever a team is doing something you're having trouble with, you make adjustments, and I think it's kind of 'cat and mouse' that way. Even throughout the year last year, you could tell the games changed a little bit, based on adjustments. I think it will be no different this year."

The Caps and Islanders split their four-game set last season, with New York claiming a pair of shutout wins and the Caps winning 4-1 and 3-1, respectively. Both teams scored a total of seven goals in the four games.

"Yeah, I think from both teams, actually," says Reirden. "Some different looks from them, and the same with ourselves - just different personnel obviously involved and fewer guys that are connected to our former Caps era. So it will have a different look to it, but obviously it's going to be an intense, emotional game here in Nassau."

Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | October 3

Every Day As We Grow Closer - Caps defenseman Michal Kempny took part in Friday's morning skate on the Island, his third straight day of "normal" practice after wearing a non-contact sweater throughout Washington's training camp.

Kempny suffered a serious lower body injury way back on March 20 in a game against Tampa Bay when he became entangled with Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle scrum in front of the Capitals' bench. Surgery followed a couple of weeks later, and a grueling offseason of rehab has followed that.

"It was definitely a long one," says Kempny of his summer. "I would say I had a lot of ups and downs. There were a couple of days that my leg didn't respond so good. Sometimes it was hard, but I've got to say that's part of rehab. I have the best people in the business around me and they're helping me every day, and I really appreciate it. Hopefully, all the bad is behind me and I'm looking forward to better days."

As his teammates began training camp, Kempny skated on his own, with a different coach each day, just to vary the routine somewhat. Towards the middle of camp, Kempny joined his teammates, but he sported a light blue non-contact jersey until earlier this week when he was cleared for full participation.

"I would say I feel pretty good," he says of this week's work on the ice. "I feel better every day, and I'm definitely getting closer. I'm not going to say a percentage or something, but I'm getting close. I still need more practice - battles, 1-on-1, 2-on-1 - but I'm definitely getting better.

"It felt a little bit weird because I didn't do those battles for six or seven months, so it was a long time. But I just have to get used to it, and it's going to be all right."

Kempny will likely have a few more skates and practices with which to prepare for his 2019-20 season debut; Reirden and the Caps' medical staff have made it clear that Kempny is an integral part of the team's defense, they're not going to rush him back until he is fully healed and ready to go. On Friday morning, Reirden indicated that Kempny is not likely to see game action this weekend, and that perhaps some time next week is a more likely target. The Caps host Dallas on Tuesday, and they have road games in Nashville on Thursday and Dallas on Saturday.

In Kempny's absence, 19-year-old Martin Fehervary stepped into the Washington lineup, making his NHL debut on Wednesday in St. Louis, and becoming just the 10th Caps defenseman ever to suit up for a regular season game as a teenager.

"I'm really happy for him," says Kempny of Fehervary. "First game in the NHL, young guy, good kid. I watched the whole game and I think he played a really good game. He is a really good hockey player, a really good kid and like I said, I'm really happy for him."

Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 4

In The Nets - Tonight's the night, as the great Neil Young would sing, the night of Ilya Samsonov's NHL debut. It's been four years plus since Washington expended its first-round pick (22nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft on Samsonov, who was the first goaltender taken in that draft. On Friday night against the Isles, after 73 games worth of KHL seasoning and 37 more games at the AHL level, the 22-year-old Samsonov makes his first NHL start.

The Caps kept Samsonov on the roster over last year's backup Pheonix Copley, who won 16 games for Washington in 2018-19. Copley was loaned to AHL Hershey, where he will share the nets with Vitek Vanecek in a position of great organizational depth for the Capitals.

"Once we made our goaltending decision, and he was going to be staying," says Reirden, "I told him that day that he would be playing tonight. He has had plenty of time to think about it, he knows exactly what's going on.

"He is in a good spot. He looked sharp and ready today, and now it's all about performance. It's a guy that we believe a lot in, from his pedigree to how he has done in training camp. He has grown over the last couple of years since we've had him, and he'll be fun to watch."

Samsonov is still trying to learn English, and he gamely underwent an on-camera interview in his second language on Thursday, after the Caps' practiced in Uniondale.

"I feel okay," says Samsonov. "I wait a long time for this chance.

"I'm not too much nervous; it's a good nervous. I feel very well. I'm ready to play."

As is the case with most European goaltenders, Samsonov had some difficulty adjusting to the smaller rinks of North America when he came over to play on this side of the Atlantic last season. The angles of shots are different, and more puckhandling is required. Samsonov has improved visibly in the latter area.

"I think first, my mentality," he says, when asked about the area of his greatest improvement since this time last year. "I changed my psychology. Much [less] stressing, play faster, play square. A little bit better cheat in this game, in North America.

Video: Ilya Samsonov | October 3

"In Russia, I didn't play the puck. They skate a little bit more, because I needed help from my team, my defensemen. It's okay right now, because everybody's helping me. Holts is talking to me all of the time. It's okay right now."

Holtby's own NHL debut came nearly nine years ago - shortly after his 21st birthday - in a relief effort against Boston. Both that game and his first NHL start against Philadelphia days later came in Washington, in front of the home crowd.

"I think it helps being on the road," says Holtby. "He can just go in and play a simple game. I think he is prepared for it, he hasn't had to sit around too long since the last game [he played], and I think that will help.

"There's not really much advice to give. The main thing is to try to not think. So if you give too much advice, it puts too much in someone's head. If he just goes in and plays his game, he will be fine."

For the Islanders, we don't have a definitive starting goaltender, but we're expecting to see former Cap Semyon Varlamov, who was last Russian goaltender the Caps chose in the first round (23rd overall in 2006) prior to Samsonov. In eight career appearances against the Caps, Varlamov is 3-4-1 with a 2.50 GAA and a .933 save pct.

All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Islanders to look when they meet on Friday night in Uniondale for the first of four times this season:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 18-Stephenson, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

Defensemen

34-Siegenthaler, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

42-Fehervary, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

30-Samsonov

70-Holtby

Injuries

6-Kempny (lower body)

92-Kuznetsov (suspension)

Scratches

72-Boyd

78-Lewington

 

NEW YORK

Forwards

27-Lee, 13-Barzal, 7-Eberle

28-Dal Colle, 29-Nelson, 12-Bailey

18-Beauvillier, 10-Brassard, 47-Komarov

17-Martin, 53-Cizikas, 15-Clutterbuck

Defensemen

3-Pelech, 6-Pulock

2-Leddy, 55-Boychuck

25-Toews, 24-Mayfield

Goaltenders

40-Varlamov

1-Greiss

Injuries

8-Dobson (lower body)

16-Ladd (torn ACL)

Scratches

14-Kuhnhackl

32-Johnston

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