Michal Neuvirth

Caps goalie Neuvirth on handling criticism: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

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It wasn’t long ago when Michal Neuvirth was mired Dale Hunter’s doghouse.

On Feb. 13, Hunter benched Neuvirth for an important game against San Jose in favor of Braden Holtby — who hadn’t played a game this season. When asked why, Hunter alluded to Neuvirth’s spotty play and said that if the 23-year-old “was standing on his head,” maybe the decision would’ve been different.

Say what you will about Hunter’s methods, but they worked.

Neuvirth has been on fire since the Sharks game — especially during Washington’s current three-game winning streak. He’s allowed just eight goals on 132 shots (.939 save percentage, 1.83 (GAA), a big reason why the Caps have stayed afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Neuvirth told the Washington Post. “Obviously there are some ups and downs, but I always bounce back. The last three games I’ve been feeling pretty good. I had a good practice today and I’m excited about [Friday].”

Friday, of course, is another huge game for the Caps — though they all are at this stage. It’s a home date against the New Jersey Devils, who sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, and Wshington knows with their two chief Southeast Division rivals having the night off (Florida and Winnipeg), this is a huge chance to make up points.

That said, Caps goalie coach Dave Prior warns Neuvirth against putting too much emphasis on a single game.

“For him it’s a bigger adjustment to not put so much emphasis on one game when you do get to play, because it’s just got to be another game,”Dave Prior said. “But for you, it might mean whether you get to play again in the next month. He’s learning to deal with that more.”

Neuvirth’s teammates are doing all they can to help in his mental approach. Caps blueliner Karl Alzner has been especially supportive — he and Neuvirth go way back to their AHL Hershey days.

“He’s got this personality where he can just brush off anything, a bad game, bad goal, criticism, he seems to be able to forget about it,” Alzner said. “He doesn’t come into the dressing room throwing stuff or yelling and screaming, no matter what happens.

“It’s just not his personality. He’s calm.”

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Video: Kuznetsov sets table for Vrana’s first NHL goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27:  Jakub Vrana of the Washington Capitals poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).

Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.

See it for yourself:

Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.

He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.

Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.

Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: