It marked the 46th shutout of the 35-year-old Czech’s career, tying him with Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 26th on the NHL’s all time list. The flawless outing, which included several key stops on Evgeni Malkin in the third period, was critical to pushing Washington into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 46 points and a game in hand against the Penguins, who also have 46 points.
“It wasn’t scrambly,” Vokoun said of his ability to withstand a heavy workload against a Penguins squad that has lost six straight. “There was no three-on-ones and breakaways and breakdowns. It’s more about playing the right way and pressure. They get a shot off a cycle or something but you don’t get those grade-A scoring chances, odd-man rushes. Usually when you do that you have a pretty good chance to win.”
There was no denying that this meeting between Washington and Pittsburgh lacked the usual pizzazz, largely because of the absence of star players on both sides because of injury.
The Penguins were without Sidney Crosby (concussion), Kris Letang (concussion), Jordan Staal (knee) while Nicklas Backstrom (head) and Mike Green (groin) were absent for Washington. But even with those key players out it doesn’t mean these franchises like each other any more.
The hits came early and often as did a fight between Matt Hendricks and Craig Adams, who dropped the gloves less than three minutes into the contest. In addition to the hearty amount of heavy checks, turnovers were the dominant trait in what was an up-and-down contest at times.
Pittsburgh created most of the early chances, testing Vokoun, whose solid saves reflected his composure from the start. Vokoun was doing precisely what he said he would do too and ventured out of the crease to play the puck and helping to thwart the Penguins’ forecheck.
“He was on. I liked his puck handling too,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He made a lot of good plays for the ‘D’ to get them out of trouble. [The Penguins are] a hard forechecking team and they come hard with two and sometimes three guys, I thought he played well that way and I thought he made some big stops for us.”
With Vokoun calmly finding his rhythm in one end, it would be the Capitals who got on the board first. Joel Wardpoke-checked Malkin as he attempted to enter the Washington zone to send his linemates, Jeff Halpern and Chimera, on a rush the other way. Halpern carried the puck down the left wing boards before sending a flat pass to a wide-open Chimera in the slot.