Michal Neuvirth

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.

NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

“This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

“What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.