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Samsonov Opens Up About Time With Capitals: Leafs A ‘Better Team’

Ilya Samsonov had a few things to say about his tenure with the Washington Capitals as he returns to D.C. with the Toronto Maple Leafs.



Now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, goaltender Ilya Samsonov admits that he doesn't really think about Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov or his former club in the Washington Capitals, who he started his NHL career with but had a rocky relationship with at the end.

He'll return to Capital One Arena for the first time on Saturday in a high-stakes matchup between the Capitals and Leafs, and though the Russian isn't sure how he'll be received, he's excited to revisit his roots.

"For sure, it's big game," Samsonov told reporters. "Special for me. First time back in building, first time seeing Washington fans. I'm so excited."

Samsonov, a first-round pick in 2015, had once been considered Washington's goalie of the future, the one who'd take over the crease when Braden Holtby's tenure came to a close. However, things didn't go according to plan. An ATV accident had led to an injury, and he also ran into COVID-19 protocol issues and was once scratched for "disciplinary reasons." On top of that, he struggled to find consistency and struggled between the pipes with a .896 save percentage in his final year and .902 SV% over three years.

Following his rough D.C. tenure, Washington elected not to qualify him when he became a restricted free agent and let him hit the market. The Capitals wanted to get a proven starter and revamp their goaltending after two years alternating with their struggling young tandem Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who was traded to New Jersey. Washington ended up inking Darcy Kuemper to a five-year deal to take over as the No. 1, while signing Charlie Lindgren for three years to back up.

For Samsonov, he's grateful to the organization for the start of his career but admitted that the relationship — and memories, for that matter — got rocky in the end.

"[It was a] first step for big NHL hockey. A lot of good memories, special for first year. Not a lot last couple years," Samsonov noted. "But this is life, yeah? I'm so excited be here in Toronto, and we'll see what's going on at Capital One Arena."

In 11 starts with Toronto, the 26-year-old has a .939 SV% and 1.70 GAA, which lead the NHL. His Maple Leafs are second in the Atlantic Division and have 44 points, 10 better than the Capitals, who sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division.

"I believe we good, we better team," Samsonov said of Toronto. "I believe my teammates… I want to get win [in D.C.] and get some two points."

Despite the fact he moved on, he still keeps in touch with some of his teammates.

"I'm not a bad guy," he cracked with a smile.

"We talk a little bit," Ovechkin smiled.

Now that he's putting up great numbers with the Leafs, Samsonov said he's feeling confident and getting a lot of support. And ultimately, he's focused on maintaining that consistency all the way to the postseason.

“We'll see in June," he said. "Right now it doesn’t matter, yeah… I'm in a good mental spot.”