Michal Neuvirth

Michal Neuvirth wants to challenge Tomas Vokoun for Caps #1 goalie job

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When the Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun to a one-year free agent deal this summer it essentially cemented Vokoun in as the starting goalie for Washington and gave them the lights-out goaltender their team hasn’t had since Olaf Kolzig was in his prime. With Semyon Varlamov sent off to Colorado in a trade, it cleared the path for Vokoun to get a job in D.C.

Of course, Michal Neuvirth was, with all respect to Varlamov, the #1 guy in goal for the Capitals last season and now he’s getting bumped off by a guy in Vokoun that was his childhood hero growing up in the Czech Republic. For Neuvirth, it’s providing him the opportunity to show his idol what he’s got and, perhaps, steal a few more starts than you’d think.

While Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has said that Vokoun is most likely going to be his starting goalie, Neuvirth tells Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post that he’s not giving up the starting job without a fight.

“Tomas might be one of the top three goalies in the league,” Neuvirth said. “So it’s a big opportunity for me to show I can be as good as this guy or even better. Obviously, I want to play the most games and I still want to be the number one goalie.”

Reminded of Boudreau’s comments, Neuvirth fired back, “It’s still summer. We still have three weeks until training camp. Whatever Bruce is saying, it doesn’t bother me. We’ll see what happens in training camp. Obviously, Tomas is a great goalie and I respect him.”

Neuvirth wouldn’t be expected to say anything other than that, really. But the stern look on his face suggested that it wasn’t just lip service.

It’s great that Neuvirth is fired up to try and keep his job. It’s not as if Neuvirth had a bad season last year, he did great in going 27-12-4 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .914 save percentage with four shutouts. Comparing that to what Vokoun did last year with the Panthers where he was a workhorse going 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals against and a .922 save percentage on a much worse Florida team, the choice seems academic.

Of course, their play on the ice will determine how things play out in the end. That said, Vokoun has been one of the league’s best for the past few seasons, he was just unfortunate enough to have a bad team in front of him to help him win more games. That’s an issue Vokoun won’t have in Washington. Having a more-than capable duo of goalies, however, is huge for Washington. While the Varlamov-Neuvirth coupling was strong, a duo of Vokoun and Neuvirth should challenge for the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. With the Caps new defensive system figured into things and their improved defensive unit, it might not matter who starts in goal on a given night for Washington.

Still, when it boils down to who “the man” will be come playoff time, unless Vokoun’s game erodes completely he should be the man. If Neuvirth is able to play himself into the competition, however, the Caps hopes of winning the Stanley Cup this year will be stronger than ever.

Oilers leaking defensemen as Sekera, Larsson are injured

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Win or lose, Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers could be a costly one for the Edmonton Oilers.

They already came into the contest with key defenseman Adam Larsson out of the mix thanks to an injury, and now the team announced that Andrej Sekera‘s night is over after he was hit by a shot.

The veteran blueliner came back for one shift, but that was it. As usual, it’s unclear how serious Sekera’s issue is beyond it forcing him to miss the rest of tonight’s back-and-forth contest versus the Panthers.

Ideally, neither Sekera nor Larsson will miss significant time, as both are important to the Oilers. You have to wonder if such injuries might just give Edmonton some added motivation to shop for some defensive help heading into the trade deadline, however.

McKenzie on the trade deadline: Shattenkirk, Bishop still could go

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 18: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues and Martin Hanzal #11 of the Phoenix Coyotes fight for control of a loose puck during the second period at the Scottrade Center on April 18, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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NHL insider Bob McKenzie beamed in some great trade deadline insight from Toronto (technology!) to NBCSN on Wednesday, so let’s take a look at what he had to say.

Amusingly enough, you can separate his takes into one tasty, McDonald’s-sponsored video (the more exciting stuff about possible trades) and a set of updates that throws some cold water on our imaginations.

Bobby Mac’s Big 3

Heh.

Anyway, in the video above, the fun stuff.

Kevin Shattenkirk: McKenzie reports that the St. Louis Blues are “more likely than less likely” to move the sought-after defenseman. The reasoning is that GM Doug Armstrong seemingly believes that this season’s group isn’t as good as last year’s, so why not get value for Shattenkirk?

(Now, there’s the argument that the West is inferior this season … but let’s move on.)

Ben Bishop: The Tampa Bay Lightning are heating up, lending some credence to the idea of holding onto their big goalie. McKenzie believes that the Bolts are still leaning toward moving Bishop, however.

Martin Hanzal: To little surprise, the Arizona Coyotes are “eager” to trade the hulking pivot. It should be intriguing to see what he might draw.

Fun killing section

OK, now the less fun side.

Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog: The Colorado Avalanche aren’t necessarily closing down shop on their biggest names, but McKenzie believes that they’re more likely to get the right trade offer during the off-season instead of the deadline.

Marc-Andre Fleury: The Pittsburgh Penguins’ preference is to hold onto “The Flower” and let the expansion draft chips fall where they may.

Others, like Anaheim Ducks defensemen including Cam Fowler: If the team is going to clear up the logjam on the blueline, it might be for someone down the chain … maybe. This situation is cloudier, as McKenzie notes that GM Bob Murray is playing it close to the vest.

***

It’s important to note that McKenzie isn’t speaking in absolutes here. Things can change, even in a week.

Still, if you’re daydreaming about moves, maybe focus those thoughts more on Shattenkirk, Bishop and Hanzal than speedy Duchene.

(Granted, they’re your daydreams …)

Boudreau knows he can only do so much to avoid slump after bye week

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The remarkably slump-proof Minnesota Wild will have their season-long stability challenged next week.

That’s when the Western Conference leaders come back from their bye, the five-day gap on every team’s schedule gained by the NHL Players Association as a concession for the new All-Star Game format.

The league’s current cumulative post-bye record is a woeful 4-12-4 with 10 teams, including the Wild, yet to test their ability to avoid coming back rusty. Coaches and managers around the NHL have not hidden their disdain for the debut of the scheduling quirk amid the grind of an 82-game season where momentum is an intangible benefit.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t sound worried, even after losing Tuesday to the Chicago Blackhawks, the lead chaser in the race for the top seed in the playoffs.

“I told them to, quite frankly, get some rest and enjoy this break but want to get home to play hockey,” Boudreau said. “For 4+ months now, you guys have done a tremendous job, and we’ve got something special going on, potentially. So it’s great to get away for a couple days, but the desire to play has got to be there. Not like, `Uh, I want to stay on vacation. I want to stay here.’ You’ve got to want to come back and play, and if we do that then I think we’ll be fine.”

For the players on this team, the best in Wild history, letting body and mind melt away at a tropical beach with a significant postseason run in plain sight is a rather unfathomable scenario.

“What kind of message can you really give `em?” Boudreau said. “I mean, they’re 39-14.”

Including the six overtime or shootout losses, the Wild have 84 points to rank one behind the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals. They’ve played one fewer game than the Blackhawks and lead their playoffs nemesis by five points. The Wild need 21 points in their last 23 games to beat the 2006-07 franchise record.

Boudreau inherited a team that qualified for the postseason in each of the last four years but endured wild swings in its quality of play during the five seasons in which Mike Yeo was the head coach. This time, the Wild are 14-3-2 following a loss, either regulation or extra time, to stop those long losing streaks in their tracks.

“I think that’s due to our depth and our understanding of how we need to play and being able to get big plays from everybody,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said recently. “We believe we can win every game. We feel we should win every game. And so when we lose one, we get back to what we’ve been doing.”

The next challenge comes Monday when the Los Angeles Kings visit Xcel Energy Center. Perhaps losing to the Blackhawks will prove to be good timing, particularly given the way the Wild overcame a sluggish second period to finish strong and nearly rally to tie the game before an empty-netter gave Jonathan Toews and Chicago a 5-3 victory.

“We wanted to go into the break with a good feeling, so that one is going to hurt a little bit,” right wing Mikael Granlund said. “We know we have to make sure we recharge our batteries and come back stronger.”

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.