- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2020

ARLINGTON — The Washington Capitals will start rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov on Sunday when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season, coach Todd Reirden announced.

Samsonov has outplayed Braden Holtby for several weeks. He’s won his last 11 decisions and compiling a league-leading 2.12 goals against average. That’s earned Samsonov more opportunities to play, in Reirden’s eyes.

“We looked at some different things,” Reirden said Saturday. “I liked a lot of parts of his game yesterday (a win over Ottawa). I think it’s, again, another challenge for him, first game against Pittsburgh this year, and we’ll see how he does.”

But Reirden did not commit to Samsonov as the new No. 1 goalie going forward.

“I think right now we need both goalies,” the coach said. “There’s lots of games coming up here after the All-Star break. There always is. We went with Braden for two games in a row, now we’ll go with Ilya for two games in a row and see how that goes.”

Holtby has shown signs of decline this season. He’s allowed three or more goals in eight of his last nine games and holds a meager .896 save percentage.

Holtby is 19-10-4 for the year while Samsonov is 16-2-1.

Choosing to start him against the Penguins — their biggest division rival and a Stanley Cup-caliber team — is a testament to the organization’s belief in the rookie, despite also having a Stanley Cup winner in Holtby at their disposal.

It remains to be seen how Samsonov will fare against Pittsburgh, his most important NHL game yet. But based on this decision and Reirden’s remarks, Holtby and Samsonov could split goalie duties when the playoffs arrive in two months.

“We’re fortunate to have a young, up-and-coming goaltender that’s performed very well, and a Stanley Cup (and) Vezina winner as well,” Reirden said. “So we’re in a good situation. You look at past history, and Stanley Cup winners, lots of them have used two goalies. You have to be able to be fresh and you never know what can happen injury-wise and everything. You’ve gotta prepare for those situations.”

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