It’s not something defensemen say they even think about. Naturally there’s an adjustment when a new goaltender comes to town, but in Tomas Vokoun’s case the process has another wrinkle.
Vokoun happens to catch with his right hand. And the 35-year-old said it has been causing problems.
“It’s a work in progress. Guys are not used to me,” Vokoun said. “I’m lefty, other way than they’re used to and sometimes I push the puck the other way than they expect it and stuff like that.”
Defenseman Dennis Wideman joked that, “Tomas can put it both ways. I don’t think it matters. He’ll go whatever way we tell him to go.” But the intricacies of playing goal out of the crease change how Vokoun does it compared to Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. It’s likely Jose Theodore had a similar learning curve when he came to the Capitals, but not as much with the Panthers, who are used to Vokoun.
The key difference is how strong Vokoun’s passes around the board – known as “hard rims” – go from either side. When a goalie stops the puck behind the net and wants to rim it around, he’s stronger on the forehand than the back-hand.
Goaltending coach Dave Prior said goalies need to be good at both, but the comfort level and the strength of the pass differs for a lefty like Vokoun.
“It’s just the easier play for Tomas to play it through the right side corner,” Prior said. “For Michal it’s through the left side. You don’t go looking for the harder play if it’s there.”
Because of that, defensemen must consider which goalie is in net, and how hard the puck will come around the boards or glass.
But analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said you can also notice the difference on faceoffs, as Vokoun might need defensemen to line up differently so that he can get a glove on a quick shot.
It’s a nuanced thing – having a left-handed goalie – but it shouldn’t take long for the Caps and Vokoun to get in sync all around.
“It’s literally just a matter of time. Some goalies and their defensemen will take four or five games to get acclimated to each other. Sometimes it’ll take 15,” Goldman said. “It looks like that comfort level is starting to slowly get there.”
And while Neuvirth having a bruised foot is not ideal for him, it is at least giving Vokoun and his defensemen more chances to get acclimated.
“Nothing comes easy,” Vokoun said, “and you’ve got to work on stuff.”
Note - Vokoun will start Tuesday night. The Caps recalled goaltender Dany Sabourin from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League Tuesday morning to be the backup.