Nothing would make veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun happier than the Washington Capitals depending on him almost every night.
As of late, that hasn't been the case. Until replacing Michal Neuvirth during Monday night's 4-2 loss in Buffalo, Vokoun hadn't played since Dec. 13, an extraordinary gap between games for someone used to being the man in goal.
"It's not something you want to go through. But, obviously, sometimes you don't have a choice," Vokoun said. "We're just trying to work hard and gain confidence in practice and do the right things, and hopefully it's going to translate when you play the game."
Vokoun hopes that 13-day drought between starts is behind him. He allowed a goal on the first shot he faced Monday but shut the door after that with 16 stops.
Coach Dale Hunter has preached a reward system for goalies, similar to Bruce Boudreau's "win and you're in" philosophy, basing the next start on game-by-game performance. If he adheres to that, Vokoun will start Wednesday night against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
"We'll see. Those are questions for coach and not for me. He's going to make the decision who plays," Vokoun said. "In my position, you only can control what you do when you're on the ice. Sometimes that's hard to control because you're affected by other people. You just stay focused on what you need to be doing to be successful."
Hunter refused to divulge his starter Tuesday, saying Vokoun "was very good coming in and they got one goal in and he was solid in the third." Neuvirth was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.
Vokoun was on the bench for four straight games after allowing four goals on 21 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 13. Neuvirth put up a .941 save percentage in four straight starts before imploding at Buffalo,
"I thought Michal played great. Obviously, he had a great game against Winnipeg [a 1-0 win Dec. 15] and played a couple good games," Vokoun said. "It's not just you don't play. It's internal stuff; I don't want to talk about it. You know what, I didn't play, I didn't play. That's just part of this job, and sometimes you're going to go through it. I'm not hung up on that or anything. I did have a bad game my last game, so you can't expect any favors."
Vokoun hasn't played fewer than 44 games since establishing himself with the Nashville Predators in 2002-03.
The 35-year-old is on pace to top 50 games, and Hunter has said he wasn't worried about Vokoun showing rust from time off.
"You see him in practice how hard he works. If you don't work in practice, you're going to have rust," Hunter said. "By working so hard in practice that he's ready to go when we need him, as the Caps need him."
In order to improve on this season's pace, the Capitals might need him to come up big — better than the .907 save percentage he has put up in 23 games. Given his track record, being relied upon might be just what Vokoun needs.
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