- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2011

It was a simple question asked of Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, who had Tomas Vokoun as a goaltender for eight seasons: Did facing a ton of shots take a toll?

His answer was just as simple - that Vokoun thrived under that sort of pressure, much of which he also endured in four seasons with the Florida Panthers before signing with the Washington Capitals in July. And even though the 35-year-old may not have liked being under siege, it’s something he got used to.

With the Capitals, Vokoun has to adjust to facing fewer shots and trying not to let his mind wander and also to “what if” questions and wondering what happens if things go wrong.

“I have to be able to deal with that and maybe go a period without a real good shot and be able to stay focused and make sure I make the next save,” Vokoun said.

Vokoun is set to face the Panthers on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, and it’s likely that Florida’s rookie goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, will be the one feeling the pressure of being deluged by pucks from the opposition.

And while the idea of Washington being a puck-possession team that creates so much on the offensive end can be a good thing for Vokoun, long breaks between action are “easier said than done,” according to goaltending coach Dave Prior.

“When you have idle time and the guy is making great saves at the other end, it only increases the importance of you being able to deliver if they come down to your end,” Prior said. “When you’re in these 2-1 games, you know you can’t screw up.”

That’s the kind of mind game Vokoun was playing Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators - hoping that one breakaway and a bad goal didn’t cost his team the game.

That wasn’t something he had to deal with while playing for bad teams when the rubber was continuously flying at him.

Losses piled up, but the veteran was able to build confidence.

“Sometimes you get 40 shots and a lot of them are from the outside, it makes you feel good that you get a lot of shots,” he said. “Some nights you get 15 shots … and you don’t get that good feeling from touching the puck and looking at the shots and saying, ‘I’ve got a 94 save percentage right now, it’s all good.’ It’s tough when it’s 15 shots, three goals. And you go, ‘Oh my God, it looks terrible’ [when] every fifth shot goes in.”

That was the case in his season opener when Vokoun allowed five goals on 28 shots. He since has settled down and boasts a .922 save percentage - above his career average.

Part of that is because Vokoun has a method of keeping himself sharp in games where the action is at the other end.

“You try to be involved in the game without obviously touching the puck but following the play and self-talking and trying to keep your mind on the task, not on the what-ifs and what might happen,” he said. “Just keep it real and when it happens, and you deal with it then.”

NOTE: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth revealed that he had a bruised right foot, caused by a shot in warmups Oct. 10. He tried practicing Monday but experienced “a lot of pain,” and had to leave the ice.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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