Vokoun Was at Best Before InjuryPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Eleven months ago, the Caps signed goaltender Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal for $1.5 million for the 2011-12 NHL season. The deal was signed a day after the Capitals shipped goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche in a deal that netted Washington a pair of high draft choices, first- and second-round selections. Today the Capitals dealt the negotiating rights to Vokoun – who was set to become an unrestricted free agent again on July 1 – to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the Pens’ seventh-round choice in the 2012 NHL Draft. The Penguins then inked Vokoun to a two-year deal worth a total of $4 million. Vokoun signed with Washington on his 35th birthday, and he – according to his own words at the time – chose the Caps over other possible destinations because he believed the Capitals had the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Ironically, Vokoun was injured and unable to play when the Caps were competing for the Cup in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. His groin injury did not adversely impact the team’s postseason performance as rookie Braden Holtby filled in more than admirably after both Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth were sidelined with ailments prior to the start of the playoffs. It is likely that Vokoun’s injury impacted Washington’s regular season finish. Vokoun won each of his first six starts for Washington last October, and he earned 22 of the first 28 victories the Capitals claimed in the 2011-12 regular season. On Feb. 12 in New York, Vokoun was slated to start an afternoon game against the Rangers. But he came down with the flu and Neuvirth stepped in at the last minute; Vokoun had led the Caps onto the ice for warm-ups that day. Neuvirth dropped a 3-2 decision to the Rangers that afternoon, and the Caps recalled Holtby to start the next night at home against San Jose. Making his first start of the season, Holtby was on the short end of a 5-3 loss. At that point of the season the Caps were set to embark upon a four-game road trip, their longest of the season to date. They were in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, three points behind eighth place Toronto and four points behind the Florida Panthers for the top spot in the Southeast Division. Vokoun started and won the trip opener by a 2-1 score against his former Florida teammates on Feb. 17, but lost by the same count the following night in Tampa Bay. He started but was pulled in each of the team’s next two games, at Carolina and Ottawa, respectively. Neuvirth claimed the net for the next six games. No one knew it at the time, but Vokoun’s best work of 2011-12 was behind him. Vokoun first suffered his groin injury in early March, missing just one game at the time. He started and won consecutive contests against Tampa Bay on March 8 and Boston on March 10, but re-aggravated the injury in the game against the Bruins and did not play in the next two games, both Washington wins. Vokoun started and lost in Winnipeg on March 16, again re-injuring the groin in the process. Soon after the Caps landed in Chicago on March 17 for a game against the Blackhawks the next day, Holtby was recalled to serve as Neuvirth’s backup. Holtby won two of three starts before falling to Buffalo on March 27 at Verizon Center. When the Caps went to Boston on March 29, Vokoun was back between the pipes. But he – by his own admission later – came back too soon and didn’t last long. After stopping all seven shots he faced in 18 minutes of work against the Bruins, Vokoun again re-injured his groin and left the ice. It would prove to be the last action he would see in a Washington uniform. The groin ailment kept him out of the final four regular season games and all 14 playoff contests. Vokoun’s best run in the Washington nets came just before he first injured his groin. Starting with a relief appearance against the Sabres in Buffalo on Dec. 16 and extending through the 2-1 loss to the Lightning on Feb. 18, Vokoun went 11-6-2 over a stretch of 20 apperances (19 starts). He had three shutouts and posted a 2.00 GAA and a .935 save pct. during that stretch. From that point forward, Vokoun made just six starts and finished only three. He was 2-3 with a 3.53 GAA and an .875 save pct. We’ll never know what might have transpired down the stretch had Vokoun not suffered that groin injury in the first place, but he was playing the best hockey of his short tenure in the District just before the injury struck. Vokoun suffered nine losses in the calendar 2012 portion of the 2011-12 season, and the Caps scored a combined total of 10 goals in those nine setbacks. When the Caps picked up Vokoun at a bargain rate last summer, it seemed like a great fit for both sides. And for a section of the season, it was. With a bit more offensive support and a full season of health, Vokoun might have been able to help steer the Caps to a fifth straight Southeast Division title, and he likely would have seen his first Stanley Cup action in five years. Instead, Washington goes forward with faith and confidence in Holtby and Neuvirth as its goaltending tandem in 2012-13, and Vokoun heads to Pittsburgh for two more cracks at the Stanley Cup title that has eluded him thus far in his NHL career.
Another hockey season has come and gone. Hearty and heartfelt congratulations to the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. What a run they put together after the trade deadline and into the playoffs. The Kings were the third seventh- or eighth-seeded team to reach the Cup final since the lockout.