Tomas Vokoun was handed the No. 1 goaltender job with the Washington Capitals last season, but because of injuries, the coaching change and more, the season didn’t go as planned.
“He help us a lot [at the] beginning of the year. And after he get hurt a little bit, he was struggling,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I don’t think last year he had that kind of opportunity or trust of the coaching staff. He came here to win, and unfortunately we didn’t win.”
Vokoun made what he called a “premeditated decision” to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer, his rights traded there for a draft pick. Even though he wasn’t going to dethrone Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the 36-year-old is enjoying the start of his first season in Pittsburgh.
“It’s early to say. I mean, I’m happy,” Vokoun said. “You live in the present, and for me it’s been great so far. We have a good bunch of guys just like we had here. I’m enjoying what I do, so it’s pretty easy to feel comfortable.”
Vokoun is 3-1-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .929 save percentage through his first four appearances.
The Penguins have gotten exactly what they expected from Vokoun after acquiring him and signing him to a two-year, $4 million contract.
“We got a guy who has been a starter, a guy who has very good numbers, who’s won a lot of games, to be a part of a great goaltending tandem. And he’s come in and done that,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think with the shortened season, it’s been even more important because of the close number of games to have a guy who’s been able to go in and play in big places against good teams and win hockey games for us.”
Vokoun wasn’t made any promises by general manager Ray Shero, whom the veteran goaltender knew from his time with the Nashville Predators. His choice to go to the Caps the previous summer was about an opportunity to start on a Stanley Cup contender, but the Penguins presented a different situation.
“It was more important for me to be on the team where it’s considered to be a top team,” Vokoun said. “I had opportunities to go to teams where I probably could have been in a personal better situation.
“But I play for long time in this league and I haven’t been fortunate really in a way to be in the playoffs. It would be nice to be able to go deep in the playoffs and possibly win a championship for the end of the career.”
Fleury started Saturday in the Penguins’ victory over the New Jersey Devils, and Bylsma already planned to give Vokoun the nod Sunday against his former team. It hasn’t been difficult for Vokoun and Fleury to get along so far.
“Marc is a great guy. It’s really easy,” Vokoun said. “I never anticipated it being hard because I never had a bad experience. But it’s even easier than I thought it would be. He’s just a great, funny, positive guy.”
Oates reacts to Erskine ban
Caps coach Adam Oates acknowledged being a little bit surprised at the NHL suspending defenseman John Erskine three games for his elbow to the head of Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.
“Tough for him, obviously,” Oates said. “He’s never been suspended before. I’m a little surprised it’s three, quite honestly, but I’ve got nothing, no say in it.”
Vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan described Erskine’s play as a “reckless elbow” to Simmonds’ face. The rugged defenseman doesn’t have any prior suspensions at this level, though Simmonds did suffer a concussion as a result of the elbow.
Oates chose Tom Poti over Roman Hamrlik as Erskine’s replacement on the blue line Sunday against the Penguins.
“We’re still evaluating Tom,” Oates said. “Before he got hurt, he was a top-four defenseman, and we’re obviously looking for him to regain that.”
• Stephen Whyno can be reached at email@example.com.
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