Of all the questions facing the Washington Capitals this offseason, the goaltending position shouldn’t be one of them. Braden Holtby stepped in and played magnificently during the playoffs and, theoretically, should be the No. 1 heading into next season.
Just don’t tell Michal Neuvirth that.
The 24-year-old Czech told the Washington Times he’s not ready to relinquish the starting gig. It was his prior to getting hurt in early April and, according to Neuvirth, it can be his again.
“I know I can be the No. 1 in this league,” he said. “That’s my goal. I will do whatever it takes to be the man.”
After starring in both the OHL and AHL levels, Neuvirth has struggled to emerge as a bonafide NHL starter. His most complete season came while platooning with Holtby and Semyon Varlamov in 2010-11 (27-12-4, .914 save percentage, 2.45 GAA), a performance that had him pegged for the No. 1 gig this year.
But when Washington went out and signed Tomas Vokoun, that narrative was halted. Neuvirth appeared in 10 fewer games than the year prior and struggled through foot and hip injuries.
As such, next year promises to be a really interesting one in Washington’s goal. Neuvirth and Holtby will be gunning for the No. 1 spot, and they’ll also both be RFAs in 2013.
In essence, they could be battling not just for a position, but also their respective futures with the Capitals.
Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?
No, of course it’s not.
It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.
Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.
“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.
“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”
Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”
As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.
It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.
Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.
At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Not that it slowed him down any.
Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.
“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.
“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.
St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)
The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.
In the meantime, here are some relevant links:
On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott
The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko
Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final
Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday
After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.
The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.
That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.