While making the transition from a team habitually in the bottom half of the NHL standings to one expected to contend for a Stanley Cup sounds like an easy enough switch, differing game styles and workloads create a challenge for Tomas Vokoun.
In each of his four years with Florida, Vokoun faced an average of over 30 shots per night and while that average has held through three games with Washington (he’s seen an average of 34 per game as a Capital) the work isn’t consistent.
“It’s one thing I’ve got to learn to deal with here,” Vokoun said after making 33 saves against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. “I’m used to being permanently getting shots and being kind of in the game and feeling the puck, that’s not the case here. You can go one period with 15 shots, next one you may get two.
“As much as it seems it’s easy when you’re not getting shots, it’s the toughest time for goalies,” Vokoun said. “You start thinking and your concentration level — if you want it or not — you start wandering.”
Vokoun’s past experience of being peppered with shots, early, often and seemingly every minute of the game didn’t prepare him for a puck-possession team like the Capitals. While his teammates can hem an opponent in the other end for multiple shifts in succession at times, they can also make mistakes that force him to make a big save at a moment’s notice.
For example, against Ottawa, the Capitals’ third line was in the midst of a strong shift when there was a miscommunication and Milan Michalek broke free on a breakaway. Vokoun was able to make the stop and preserve Washington’s 2-1 lead.
“Sometimes we kind of get a little bit on our heels for whatever reason and all of a sudden there are shots from all over the place,” said Vokoun, who added that is not the only kink he’s trying to work out of his game. Because he catches with his right hand and holds his stick with the left, Vokoun is the opposite of both Michal Neuvirth and former Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov, which he said has led to some miscues.
“Like I said, it’s a work in progress,” Vokoun said. “Guys are not used to me — I’m a lefty, other way than they’re used to, and sometimes I push the puck other way than they expect it and stuff like that.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he’s not too worried, though, especially considering Vokoun’s improvement over three games.
“I just thought the first game wasn’t so good,” Boudreau said. “The second game was really good and tonight was really, really good. Let’s just hope you keep adding one of those ‘really’s into every game.”