- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2011

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun works in Washington, but his life is still in South Florida. His wife and daughters live here despite the goaltender playing for the Capitals.

So he was thrilled for the chance to fly into town earlier Sunday than the team arrived so he could be with his family.

“For me, it’s special because my family’s here and I get to see my kids and stay home a couple of days,” Vokoun said. “Obviously from being away since September, it’s really nice.”

Vokoun was able to devote more time to his wife, Dagmar, and daughters Adelle, 11, and Natalie, 5, because he learned Saturday night he would not be starting against the Florida Panthers, the team he played for the past four seasons.

“Honestly, it’s always disappointing when you’re not playing. I could relax more [Sunday], have fun with the kids and enjoy my day today too,” Vokoun said. “Once you get to my age, I’m not going to dwell over one game here or there.”

Dale Hunter decided to give Michal Neuvirth the nod after a strong performance Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators. The 23-year-old stopped 32 of 34 shots to give Hunter his first win as an NHL coach. It was Neuvirth’s first win since Nov. 4.

The Panthers billed Monday night’s game as the “Battle For First” and “The Return of Vokoun.” But Hunter’s plans didn’t follow suit.

“It’s just a choice,” the Capitals’ coach said. “There’s not much to explain. Me and [goaltender coach] Dave Prior talked about it, and we thought it was a good way to go.”

Hunter said last week he typically likes to ride the hot hand when it comes to goaltenders. On Monday, he complimented Neuvirth for his solid performance against the Senators.

“He controlled his rebounds well and lots of traffic in front and he was big in net,” Hunter said.

Vokoun shut out the Panthers 3-0 in October but on a personal level was disappointed earlier that month when he learned the day before the season opener that he wouldn’t be starting. His wife and daughters were in town at the time, and they had to fly home for school before the 35-year-old made his Capitals debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Vokoun was asked after the morning skate if he was surprised about his former team’s hot start and talked about not being in net to start Monday instead.

“Those are decisions coach makes. I’m a paid employee, and I don’t make those kind of decisions,” he said. “I’m a hockey player. I’m here to play games. When they tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. When they tell me I’m not playing, I’m not playing.”

Vokoun is 8-4-0 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Those numbers reflect his career stats — 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage.

But this is the first time he’s dealing with his home life and work life happening in two places. Allowing his daughters to stay in the school they’re comfortable with was part of the decision to move to Washington alone.

“It’s not for a long time,” Vokoun said. “Is it the perfect scenario? No. But in the long run, sometimes you have to deal with different kinds of things.”

And it’s something that makes every visit home even more valuable.

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