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Game Day: Capitals Get Chance To Rebound vs. Samsonov, Leafs

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Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

As the Washington Capitals likely see one of their new netminders debut for the club against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, they will also see a familiar and former goaltender on the other side.

Ilya Samsonov will kick off his Leafs’ tenure against his former Capitals on Thursday after Matt Murray got the call to open Toronto’s campaign against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Charlie Lindgren is expected to make his Washington debut after Darcy Kuemper started Wednesday’s season opener against the Boston Bruins.

Both teams are coming off a game the night beforehand and both saw disappointing results in their openers. The Capitals were shaky and underwhelming to open the season and fell 5-2 to the banged-up Boston Bruins at home, while Kuemper surrendered four goals in his first game fresh off a Stanley Cup in Colorado just a few months earlier. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, were in a back-and-forth game against the Canadiens and looked to be overtime-bound in their opener, but a Josh Anderson goal with 17 seconds left in regulation led to a loss to open the 2022-23 campaign.

Washington is not holding a morning skate prior to puck drop, so it’s unclear if there will be lineup changes, with the exception of Lindgren in for Kuemper. Here were Wednesday’s line combinations, which saw Connor McMichael, Joe Snively and Matt Irwin draw out as healthy scratches:

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Connor Brown

Aliaksei Protas-Dylan Strome-Anthony Mantha

Marcus Johansson-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie

Conor Sheary-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway

Martin Fehervary-John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen

Erik Gustafsson-Trevor van Riemsdyk

READ MORE ON WHN: Takeaways From Washington Capitals’ Season-Opening Loss To Boston Bruins

There are a few names to watch for Thursday’s tilt, and it starts in goal. Lindgren had a strong preseason, stopping 41 of 43 shots against (.953 save percentage) in three appearances. Samsonov didn’t have a bad preseason either, going 1-1-0 and stopping 72 of 78 shots (.917 save percentage).

Lindgren is kicking off what will be his first full NHL campaign. He impressed and rose to prominence last year after an undefeated five-game stint up with the St. Louis Blues that saw him boast a .958 SV% and 1.22 GAA. Down with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, he finished second in the league in SV% (.925) and was one of the best performers. That earned him a three-year, $3.3 million deal to join the Capitals.

Samsonov, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back after years of inconsistency in D.C. The Russian netminder split the season with Vitek Vanecek last year and went 23-12-5 with a .896 SV% and 3.02 GAA. In the playoffs, he bounced back and had some flashes of the greatness that made him a first-rounder and finished the series with a .912 SV%. However, years of struggles in the District led Washington to not issue a qualifying offer to Samsonov. He then signed with the Maple Leafs, betting on himself with a one-year, $1.8 million deal.

RELATED: Kuemper Reflects On Shaky Washington Capitals Debut

Beyond the goaltending, keep an eye on the Capitals’ second line. Anthony Mantha picked up his first of the season in Wednesday’s loss, all thanks to a brilliant toe-drag pass from Dylan Strome. Aliaksei Protas also generated a few good chances, battled hard and got to the right areas. That combination spent the majority of its time in the offensive zone to boot.

While Alex Ovechkin didn’t score in his season debut, the Great 8 loves to play in Toronto. He should be ready against his former goaltender and longtime friend, who also recently said Auston Matthews’ shot was harder than his. So, watch for Ovechkin to change Samsonov’s mind. The 37-year-old was also all over the place on Wednesday, asserting himself physically with nine hits (just one behind Martin Fehervary’s 10 for the team lead).

And obviously, when discussing Ovechkin, also watch Auston Matthews. The Toronto star is coming off a 60-goal campaign but was also held off the scoresheet on Wednesday.¬†Other Leafs to keep an eye on: William Nylander, John Tavares, Michael Bunting…

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