ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin will see a friendly face in the opposing net when the Washington Capitals forward takes his next shot at tying and passing Gordie Howe for second on the NHL goals list against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena on Saturday (7 pm ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, SNW, SNP, NBCSWA).
But though Ilya Samsonov was happy to see his fellow Russia-born player become the third player in NHL history to reach 800 goals against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, he has no interest in giving up Ovechkin’s 801st, which would tie Howe’s total and leave only Wayne Gretzky ahead of him with 894 goals.
“Congrats to him,” Samsonov, the former Capitals goalie, said earlier this week. “It’s really great for him. Everyone knows he’s a nice player and great sniper. I wish him the best in pursuing Gretzky’s record.
“But not against Toronto.”
[RELATED: Ovechkin joins 800-goal club]
Ovechkin faced a similar attitude from the Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 45 saves in a 2-1 victory at the Capitals on Thursday. Ovechkin had an assist on Washington’s goal, scored by a forward Conor Shearyand five shots on goal, but Oettinger ended his four-game goal streak and avoided having to watch a milestone celebration.
After reaching 800 goals in dramatic fashion by scoring his 29th NHL hat trick in a 7-3 victory at the Blackhawks, Ovechkin had his share of opportunities against Oettinger but was forced to wait at least two more days to catch Howe.
“You never know what’s going to happen, right?” Ovechkin said Thursday. “Obviously, who knows I’m going to score three goals against Chicago and it’s going to be 800? Nobody. So we’ll see.”
Samsonov will have additional motivation Saturday; the 25-year-old will play in Washington for the first time since signing a one-year, $1.8 million contract with Toronto on July 13.
The no. 22 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Samsonov became an unrestricted free agent after the Capitals decided not to make him a qualifying offer. Samsonov isn’t sure what to expect in his return to Washington.
“Hard to say,” he said. “Just started thinking about it after that [a 7-0 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday]. I was in Washington for what, [three] years? But right now, it doesn’t matter. I’m a Toronto guy right now and will do everything in my power to win that game.”
Video: A montage of Ovechkin’s 800 career goals
Samsonov already has one win against Ovechkin and the Capitals this season; he made 24 saves, including stopping all four of Ovechkin’s shots, in a 3-2 victory at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 13.
Samsonov’s odds of winning again will increase if he can stop Ovechkin again and avoid becoming the 166th goalie he has scored against. From three seasons of playing behind Ovechkin and practicing against him with Washington, Samsonov knows how difficult it is to stop his shot.
“He shoots as hard in practice as he does in the game,” Samsonov said. “There’s not much difference but it’s still hard to stop the puck. Everyone knows where he’s shooting from, the position, but it’s still hard to stop because the puck is moving (so fast). But we feel we have a nice team. I believe in our defensemen. I believe in how we play.”
The Maple Leafs (19-6-6) had their streak of 15 straight games with a point (12-0-3) end with a 3-1 loss at the New York Rangers with Matt Murray in net on Thursday but are tied with the New Jersey Devils for second in the Eastern Conference with 44 points, four behind the Boston Bruins (48).
Despite missing 12 games with a knee injury, Samsonov has been a big part of Toronto’s success. In 11 starts, he is 9-2-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average and. 939 save percentage, best in the NHL in each category among goalies to play at least nine games, and has shutouts in his past two starts, against the Los Angeles Kings and Ducks.
“Guys know him,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said, “and he was here and a part of the organization for quite a while and he’s off in Toronto now and he’s doing well, so that’s good for him.
“We’ve got to focus on winning hockey games, so we’re going to try to figure out a way to put pucks behind him and win a hockey game. So that’s the focus we spend more time talking about.”
In three seasons with Washington, Samsonov was 52-22-8 with a 2.81 GAA, .902 save percentage and six shutouts. But he battled inconsistency last season, when he was 23-12-5 with a 3.02 GAA, .896 save percentage and three shutouts in 44 games (39 starts).
The Capitals decided to start fresh with their goalies. In addition to letting Samsonov go, they traded Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils on July 8 and on July 13 signed Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren to be their new tandem.
Samsonov remains close with Capitals center Yevgeny Kuznetsov and the two communicate regularly.
“I wish him all the best and as a friend you probably always want him to be successful,” Kuznetsov said before the season. “I hope that everything’s going to work out with him and he’s going to play well and that’s a tough environment to be around. So far it sounds like they have a pretty good guys inside the team.
“They help him and there’s not a lot of people that speak Russian over there, so his English will be better.”
NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report