Michal Neuvirth Calls Braden Holtby “Weakest Competition” Yet, Says Alex Ovechkin “Isn't What He Used To Be”

Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth is one of the most reserved members of the team, but he is not shy when it comes to speaking his mind.

Case in point: in a interview with Czech outlet iSport.cz (as shared on Russian Machine Never Breaks and translated by Karolina Martinková of hockey-on.blogspot.cz), Neuvirth opened up about last season's developments and the upcoming season, including calling goaltender Braden Holtby his "weakest competition" yet as a member of the Caps.

On his position as starting goalie on the club:

It’s true that until now, I have never been an official number one. But I have played just over a hundred games in NHL. That’s nothing. I’m starting the season sure that I want to play forty/fifty games and I am really sure that I have the weakest competition (Braden Holtby) I’ve ever had. I will try to be number one goalie this season. Finally!

In Neuvirth's defense, he was a victim of circumstance last season. He was slated to be the No. 1 goaltender in the postseason when Tomas Vokoun went down with a serious groin injury, but an injury of his own -- a hip flexor suffered April 5 in the second-to-last regular season game against the Florida Panthers -- allowed Holtby to slide into the top spot. Even before then, Washington chose Neuvirth over Semyon Varlamov last summer, shipping the latter to Colorado and seemingly giving the former a vote of confidence as the starting goaltender. The following day, the Caps signed Vokoun.

Neuvirth also fell out of favor with former head coach Dale Hunter -- who Neuvirth said "didn't talk to us goalies at all" and criticized them "sometimes for no reason" -- and admitted that "it's good he left." All of those elements -- plus Neuvirth's assertion that this season is a "turning point year" for him -- created a perfect storm of frustration, which he obviously needed to get off his chest.

Neuvirth later clarified his statement regarding Holtby, saying that he meant that Varlamov and Vokoun were better competition because of their NHL experience, but he also shared his views on Alex Ovechkin and the recently-departed Alexander Semin:

Another big star left the Caps – Alex Semin. Some say it will help the club, some say it won’t. What do you think?

Something in between. I see the leaving of Semin as a huge minus for the team, but then again I think it may do some good. He didn’t have the best work ethic. Maybe now when Ovi will be without him, he will put more into hockey. Maybe that’s what the management was going for.

Matt Bradley said things about Semin’s work ethic as well, and he had to apologize…

But I think it’s nothing that isn’t well known. If Semin wanted to, he could have been the best player in the world, but he doesn’t want to every day. And that’s wrong.

On Ovechkin

He isn’t what he used to be, that’s for sure. And if a team like ours wants to have a chance in Stanley Cup, we need Ovi to be the best. We all expect that from him; he has to be the real leader. But it’s hard you know, he achieved everything as a player. He was on absolute top, and then one can only fall down. I just hope that Ovi will stop falling and instead stops and maybe tries to get back on top. As for his attitude in the locker, he is still the same guy. Even when it’s not working out for him, he is in a good mood, he celebrates with the others. He is the right team player. He will stay like that forever.

That's a lot to digest (don't worry, if there's a lockout, you'll have more time to do that), but incredibly enlightening. Of course, things may have gotten lost in translation, so take these words for what they're worth, but either way, training camp just got a lot more interesting.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

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