After only 5 minutes 9 seconds Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, it was clear the Capitals were flat at RBC Center, on their heels from the start against the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
So after seven shots and two goals against, starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun was pulled and replaced by Michal Neuvirth in the earliest stages of an ugly, embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes. While perhaps the first Carolina goal could be attributed to Vokoun, it wasn’t the netminder’s play that prompted his removal.
“Change momentum more than anything and slow down the game, and get Neuvy in and just change momentum,” Coach Dale Hunter said. Did he get the spark out of the Capitals that he sought? “Not really.”
By all accounts, Vokoun has been one of the consistent sources of strength for the Capitals in recent weeks. In his 10 appearances prior to facing the Hurricanes, Vokoun allowed 21 goals on 298 shots for a save percentage of .929 and 2.07 goals against average but the team’s record during that time was 4-4-2.
Should the Capitals manage to play their way into the playoffs, they’ll undoubtedly lean heavily on the veteran netminder and his teammates know that the quick hook against Carolina wasn’t a reflection on Vokoun, but rather them.
“Just the game itself should’ve led to a spark. But it wasn’t Tomas,” Jeff Halpern said of the switch. “The whole team was just bad.”
After the goaltending switch, the Capitals went on to be plagued by the same problems as in those early minutes: turnovers, sloppy passes and just disjointed play overall.
“I don’t think he got pulled because of his play, I think he got pulled because we needed to get a spark,” Troy Brouwer said. “Our effort after that, again, back to it, embarrassing.”