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Two Dudes: Anderson or Samsonov?

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You bring the pigs, we bring the lipstick.

Washington Capitals v Boston Bruins - Game Three Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Three games into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Washington Capitals have started a different goaltender in each game. If you knew goaltending was going to be a question mark, could you have possibly known it’d be quite like this?

Despite the rotating assignment, the goaltending at large hasn’t been terrible. In fact, Ilya Samsonov and Craig Anderson are two of the NHL playoff leaders in goals saved above average, although that’s a metric that can be inflated by a high volume of dangerous rubber headed their way. But despite strong play, neither goaltender was able to get through a game without costing their team a goal - Craig Anderson was wildly out of position on the opening wraparound in Game 2, and Ilya Samsonov’s blunder in the second overtime last night is one scarcely anyone reading this needs reminding of - and with both of those games being decided by a single goal, it’s easy to point fingers.

Craig Anderson stepped in admirably, but his limitations are obvious. Ilya Samsonov elevated his game, then blew it in the biggest moment of the playoffs. So, who ya got heading into a pivotal Game 4 in Boston?

Kevin: I think you’ve got to give the net back to Ilya Samsonov for Game 4. The guy saw the ice for two days before getting his first-ever nod in the NHL playoffs, and he turned in the best netminding performance the Caps have gotten in the playoffs since 2018. As we’ve discussed in the past, the Caps’ best chance at making a run is having a guy go on a heater in net, and what we saw last night was a guy heating up in net. Having your hottest hand riding the pine because of one brainfart in a big moment is no way to live, especially at the goaltender position. He was drafted to be the guy, and now one (maybe final) opportunity has come across the plate to be the guy, and he rose to the occasion, so stick with it and see where the cards may fall.

He’s without question the most athletic goaltender on the Caps roster, and he needed every ounce of that athleticism just to keep the Caps in Game 3 for as long as he did. The play that led to the 2OT loss in Game 2 was inexcusable (even if some of the blame does fall on Justin Schultz) but I’ll take the odds that Samsonov learns from that easily avoidable mistake and keeps his game elevated. Some guys just warm to the task when its needed most, and in Game 4, Samsonov looked like he could be that guy, finally.

Rob: I’d quibble with your characterization that he gave the best performance since 2018—Holtby kept them closer to the Islanders than they should have been in a couple starts last summer—but ultimately that’s irrelevant to this question. Sam played well and kept them in the game longer than they deserved to be, sure, but it’s hard to ignore the way he ended it. You can blame Schultz all you want, but Ovi throwing a tirade in Russian tells you where he sees the blame for that mistake.

While Samsonov did make some great plays, especially in OT, it’s got to be Anderson. Samsonov wasn’t even on the ice until 3 days ago for self-inflicted reasons, and it’s not like the net was even his before he went out. I agree we need a guy on a heater, but I’ll take the guy that has actually gone on a playoff heater over the guy that has never started 3 straight games. Sure, he was good (until he wasn’t), but was he really any better than a rusty Anderson? In his last three appearances he’s been great, with one soul-crushing boner, and a lesser one than Sam’s at that. He’s old, sure, but he’s rested. More importantly, the playoffs are about a strong mental game in net, and there is zero doubt about which guy is bringing the stronger mental game to the crease.

Kevin: Look, I’m glad that Craig Anderson was able to step in and do what he did, but the guy needed a maintenance day after playing fewer than two full games in a span of three days. He did a nice job filling in the gap but how confident can you be that he’s got the stamina to keep it up for a team that has gone to more overtimes in recent memory than any other team in these playoffs? Giving the net to Anderson was compelling when the team’s options were reduced ostensibly to nothing else, and he didn’t look bad. But now that there’s another option, and one who flashed physical tools in net that are obviously superior to Anderson’s, he’s not nearly as compelling. After all, if this guy was a viable option to carry the load wouldn’t you at least expected him to have gotten a backup sweater for Game 3?

Rob: Well, lots of guys take maintenance days and while it’s not ideal, I don’t see how you hold it against him without knowing more. Maybe he’s more banged up than they are letting on, but it makes sense to me that you don’t dress the guy if you don’t want him playing, for whatever reason. Sam has flashed physical tools for sure, but also very little in the way of mental tools on or off the ice. I just don’t see where you can get the confidence that the guy can roll through 20+ playoffs games, if they manage to survive this series, when we’ve never seen him play even 7 and he seems congenitally incapable of taking care of himself the way a professional goalie needs to. If Anderson runs out of steam then so be it, but I’m giving him the chance to show what he’s got. Sam will always be there waiting. Or maybe not. Anyway, speaking of taking care of yourself and overtimes, I need to go get my liver checked out. Only thing I can say for certain is every one of the remaining games is going to take a year off my life.

Kevin: No kidding, only one way to reconcile choose between these two options. Where’s the closest liquor bottle? Oh here it is, right where I left it...

Poll

Who would you start in Game 4?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Craig Anderson
    (80 votes)
  • 83%
    Ilya Samsonov
    (406 votes)
486 votes total Vote Now