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.

Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

But this is the first step in a long process.

“It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”

Blackhawks release trio from professional tryouts

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The Chicago Blackhawks made some roster moves Thursday, releasing forwards Drew Miller and John Mitchell, and defenseman Mark Stuart from their professional tryouts.

All three players were added to the training camp roster at the beginning of last week, after Cody Franson was previously brought in to the Blackhawks camp on a PTO.

Chicago is now down to 54 players in camp.

Miller, 33, had spent the last eight seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, although he also spent seven games in the minors last season with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Stuart, 33, spent the last six years on the Winnipeg Jets blue line. Mitchell, 32, had played the last five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.

Blues name Larry Robinson as new senior consultant to hockey operations

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Larry Robinson has joined the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues made the announcement Thursday, revealing that Robinson has joined the organization as a senior consultant to hockey operations.

Based on the comments of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, it sounds like Robinson will work closely at times with head coach Mike Yeo. It could also further help the development of an already impressive defenseman in Colton Parayko.

“Bringing someone like Larry in, I just think, helps our hockey operations from top to bottom,” said Armstrong, per the Blues website.

“His ability to talk to Mike Yeo about coaching — that’s one area that we don’t have on our staff is a former head coach. You can think you know what Mike’s going through but I don’t know what Mike’s going through. Larry does. So he’s going to be able to relate to him on a lot of the things that he’s going to go through.

“He’s coming in as a consultant. I can learn a lot from him, our assistant coaches can, Parayko can. There’s not an area of our hockey operations he can’t touch to make us a better group.”

Robinson was most recently the director of player development with the San Jose Sharks, however it was reported in May that he would not return to that organization for this season.

Looks like Matt Duchene will make preseason debut tonight vs. Stars

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According to reports, there is substantial interest from other teams in Matt Duchene. That said, he remains with the Colorado Avalanche for now and will, it appears, make his preseason debut Thursday against the Dallas Stars.

Earlier this week, Darren Dreger reported on TSN that as many as eight teams have interest in Duchene, with the Senators aggressively pursuing the 26-year-old forward.

According to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, Duchene will be in the lineup tonight versus the Stars.

Trade speculation has been swirling around Duchene for months now. He reported to training camp last week, and has since said his status with the Avalanche is a “day-by-day” situation.

“I love playing hockey. I want to win,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “That’s the biggest thing on my mind. I’m trying to get better every time I touch the ice right now.”