WASHINGTON — Going into Saturday's game at the arena he used to call home, Ilya Samsonov felt the nerves building. Though he was determined to show the Washington Capitals they made a mistake, the Toronto Maple Leafs netminder had his worst game of the season, surrendering five goals on 28 shots (.821 save percentage) in a loss reminiscent of the struggles that led to his departure from D.C.
Samsonov had been near perfect to start the 2022-23 season with Toronto, who he signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal with this offseason after the Capitals passed on qualifying him. Going into Saturday's game, he led the NHL in save percentage and GAA and had a shutout streak going.
Ultimately, an Erik Gustafsson hat trick and goals from Trevor van Riemsdyk and Garnet Hathaway led to Samsonov allowing five goals in a game for the first time this season. It also made the defeat more difficult to take in.
"It's hard loss for me," Samsonov said. "I think I play bad in this game… we're coming back tomorrow and back to work again. For my game, I need to play better."
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The Russian said it was bittersweet experience returning to Capital One Arena. Samsonov got a jumbotron tribute from the team welcoming him back at the first media timeout. He also received a mixed reception from fans, some of who offered applause while others mercilessly started a "Sam-my" chant in wake of his rough showing in net.
"It's interesting. I have nervous — a lot of emotion," Samsonov said. "But results, not too great…. this is history right now. Tomorrow's a new day, and I'm coming back tomorrow to the rink for get better."
Things didn't end on a positive note between Samsonov and the Capitals, as the team went for a goalie overhaul and brought in Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren to bring stability and replace Samsonov and his counterpart, Vitek Vanecek, who was dealt to New Jersey. However, the city and fanbase still mean a lot to him for getting his NHL career started.
"Thank you so much. Thank you, Washington fans," Samsonov said. "These fans is in my heart all the time."