Vokoun ‘didn’t expect’ not to start Capitals season opener

Goalie reacts to Neuvirth getting nod as Boudreau again declines comment

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Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun figured he would be in net for opening night Saturday. Coach Bruce Boudreau anointed him the starter back in July, downplaying the idea of a competition between Vokoun and incumbent Michal Neuvirth.

So Vokoun flew in his mother, wife and two daughters to watch Saturday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. But Vokoun will instead be on the home bench at Verizon Center, told he’s making his Washington debut Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

By then, his family will be gone.

“They’re leaving Sunday,” he said. “They have school Monday.”

Vokoun on Saturday reacted with disappointment and surprise about Boudreau giving Neuvirth the nod in the opener.

“I didn’t expect it, honestly. But you know what, this is not the kind of business where you can expect things and stuff like that,” Vokoun said. “I’m disappointed, but I think that’s the right thing to do every time you don’t play. You’re not going to be happy about it, especially when it’s opening night.”

Vokoun’s agent, Allan Walsh, on Friday night told The Washington Times that not giving his client the distinction of being the opening-night starting goaltender could be “perceived as a slap in the face.”

“There’s a certain symbolism attached to who starts the first game of the season at home,” Walsh told The Times. “It doesn’t mean he’s not a No. 1 goalie. But this can certainly be perceived as a slap in the face.”

Boudreau was prepared to be asked about the goaltending situation Saturday following the Caps’ morning skate. Like Friday, he bristled at a question about Vokoun.

“I’m not going to talk about who’s starting and who’s not starting as far as goalies go right now,” the coach said.

Boudreau provided no reason for the decision, but Neuvirth explained it was a reward for showing up to camp in good shape. Vokoun confirmed that after a long conversation with goaltending coach Dave Prior. He and Prior spoke for at least a half-hour after the morning skate.

“They just said Michal had a good camp and they want to have that recognized,” Vokoun said. “They didn’t tell me that [Friday] but today they told me it’s not reflection on me. They’re as much as confident in me as they were two months ago.”

As recently as Sunday, Boudreau again referenced the respect Vokoun deserved as a 35-year-old veteran.

Tomas is No. 1, but we’ve got a No. 1A,” Boudreau said after the preseason finale. “Training camp, you got guys that come in that deserve the respect to be where they were, and Tomas has earned that.”

But Neuvirth will start the season opener.

“[It’s] one game. Obviously it’s not very comfortable for me. But I’m here to play hockey and do my job,” Vokoun said. “I don’t make those kind of decisions.”

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