Neuvirth on Vokoun: “He’s a goalie I always looked up to”

The Capitals have had more action in their goaltending nets than usual this offseason. After trading former first-rounder Semyon Varlamov to the Avalanche for Colorado’s first and second round picks on July 1, they went out and signed arguably the best goaltender on the open market by landing Tomas Vokoun. The series of moves looked great when the dust settled: the Caps had improved their goaltending in the short-term, added a veteran presence to their trio of young netminders, and acquired two valuable draft picks from a team that will struggle to make the playoffs next season. There wasn’t much to be upset about from a Capitals perspective.

But for goaltender Michal Neuvirth, the news wasn’t as positive.

Last season, the Czech goaltender battled to earn the starting job out of training camp and eventually in the playoffs. Both Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby were impressive during stretches throughout the year, but when the season was on the line, the coaching staff put Neuvirth between the pipes in the playoffs. And why not? Over the course of the season, Neuvirth played like a #1 goaltender despite battling for the starting role all season. He finished the regular season with an impressive 27-12-4 record, 2.45 goals against average, and a .914 save percentage.

Despite the season that Neuvirth could build on, Caps’ General Manager George McPhee took the opportunity to sign the well respected Vokoun when the opportunity presented itself on July 2. For the first time, Neuvirth spoke out about his feelings about Vokoun’s arrival in Washington. Fedor Fedin of Russian Machine Never Breaks translated Neuvirth’s quotes to the Czech site iSport.cz:

“When I started to think about it, I realized that it’s actually really great. He is a goalie I always looked up to.”

(snip)

“Yeah, that’s a pity,” he said to the Czech site. ”But I don’t care who is number one and who is number two right now. It’s summer, the season has not even begun. These talks don’t harm me at all. I’m going to camp with the same position as every year. I want to play as many games as possible, whether at the expense of Tomas Vokoun or Varly. I just want to play.”

Neuvirth’s reaction shows incredibly maturity for a 23-year-old who is looking to make his mark on the league. It’s true that if Vokoun is willing to act as a mentor, the move has the potential to help Neuvirth over the rest of his career. Still, the Capitals are a stacked team that is competing for a Stanley Cup—and he was the man who thought he’d have an opportunity to lead the team. It’s important to note that even if he’s a prototypical back-up next season and only sees 25 games, he’ll still be property of the Capitals for years to come (if they so choose).

From the Capitals blog Corey’s Corner:

“Neuvirth put up above average numbers and is under team control at a low cost for the next few seasons so we’ll see if he can turn into that #1 goalie who can steal games for us. He showed that he can handle a big workload this year but he wasn’t the most consistent so that’s something we’d like to see him improve on. With Tomas Vokoun mentoring him, there’s no doubt in my mind that he can improve on these numbers. Not playing in nearly 50 games could help him too.”

There’s no question that signing an elite goaltender was an offseason victory for the Capitals. With Vokoun between the pipes, they’ll have a proven netminder who has shown over the last decade that he’s capable of playing at the highest level in the NHL. But just as important this offseason is the way Neuvirth is handling the difficult situation.

From a personal standpoint, the former 2nd round pick must have been looking at this season as an opportunity to take the next step in his career as he helped the Capitals compete among the league’s elite. He could have made this a difficult situation for everyone involved: but instead, he’s handling it like a man and looks like he’ll work to improve on his game while Vokoun starts the season as the #1 goaltender.

Who knows what will happen over the long 82 game season. Chances are the Capitals will need Neuvirth to step up at some point during the year. It sounds like he’s in the right frame of mind and he’ll be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.

Gibson (lower-body injury) will play again this regular season, says Carlyle

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The Anaheim Ducks have been without goalie John Gibson for almost two full weeks because of injury, but head coach Randy Carlyle provided reason for optimism on Thursday.

Per reports, Gibson took part in practice and Carlyle has said that his No. 1 netminder will play again during the regular season. Anaheim has nine games remaining on its schedule.

That’s good news for Anaheim heading into the post-season.

While Gibson has been out, Jonathan Bernier has stepped beyond his back-up role and provided solid goaltending for the Ducks during the stretch drive — which should also be a bonus for this club with the playoffs quickly approaching.

Bernier has wins in six of his last seven starts. In nine games this month, he has only twice allowed three goals or more.

The Ducks have fought their way back into contention for the Pacific Division with a recent surge that has coincided with San Jose’s current skid — only four wins in their last 10 games and four straight losses.

Related: Career back on track, Bernier hopes he can re-sign in Anaheim

Report: IIHF needs NHL’s Olympic decision by end of April

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The Winter Olympics are less than a year away and time is ticking on the NHL to make a decision — one way or another.

From TSN.ca:

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

For those hoping NHL players will compete in South Korea next year, the situation right now appears bleak, given the recent comments of commissioner Gary Bettman, who told Reuters that “…people should assume we are not going.”

Bettman has also argued the compressed schedule that accompanies the league’s participation in the Olympics is bad for the NHL.

Read more: Fehr: Players won’t negotiate with NHL over Olympics

Meanwhile, a number of players — Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jakub Voracek and rising star Connor McDavid among them — have publicly lobbied for the opportunity to once again compete in the Olympics, adding that having the world’s best players there is a benefit to growing the game.

(In McDavid’s case, he has never played in the Olympics, but given his stature as arguably the league’s best player right now in only his second season, he’d be a shoe-in to make Team Canada if healthy.)

Voracek recently sounded off the matter, essentially calling the league’s position, “Absolutely ridiculous.”

Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

Perhaps you see where this is going.

Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

“It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

Elsewhere…

— The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

— It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

— After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

— It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

— Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

— In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.