So far, though, he’s been another underachieving star on a roster full of them.
He was so porous in Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on home ice, Ted Leonsis called him out on his personal blog, where the owner bluntly wrote, “Our goal tending wasn’t very good” in the opening sentence of an entry entitled, “Falling Short of Measuring Up.”
Let’s get this straight at the start: The Capitals’ mystifying malaise can’t solely be placed at the foot of Vokoun’s crease. A two-goal output in the last 15 games from captain Alex Ovechkin is another big reason the team departed for Thursday’s game in Winnipeg mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference.Alexander Semin’s season-long goal-scoring slump, as well as the injuries that have kept No. 1 defenseman Mike Green sidelined for all but eight of the team’s 29 games, also play a major role.
But it’s tough to overlook the fact that the Capitals don’t have a goaltender who can be counted upon to stop pucks in the clutch. Or, for that matter, in the first period of a big game on home ice, with a clear look at the shooter, as we all witnessed Tuesday.
NHL goalies are expected to stop Scott Hartnell’s harmless-looking wrist shot from the circle 10 times out of 10. Vokoun allowed it to trickle through his pads, continuing a trend of allowing soft goals at precisely the wrong moment.
Until Hartnell scored, the Capitals had been holding their own against the East’s top team. After it, the Verizon Center crowd went silent (except for the large contingent of Flyers fans) and shoulders on the home bench sagged.
A veteran-laden team should possess enough mental fortitude to overcome a soft goal. But the Capitals are a fragile group these days, and goals such as Hartnell’s can easily shatter the team’s collective confidence.
There don’t appear to be any quick fixes.
Backup goalie Michal Neuvirth has worse numbers than Vokoun, his 3.73 goals against average and .875 save percentage ranking last among qualifying goalies, according to NHL.com. Touted minor league prospect Braden Holtby, meantime, hasn’t been much better in Hershey. The 22-year-old has an .898 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average, not to mention the Capitals are up against the salary cap, which complicates matters.
Given all that, the Capitals’ best hope is that Vokoun works his way out of the slump, just as he has done at times throughout his 14-year career. He entered the season tied for the best save percentage (.922) in the NHL since the lockout for a reason.
“I haven’t gone through it in a while,” he said. “But everything can be fixed.”
On Wednesday, Vokoun took the first step: He admitted there is a problem.
“I don’t think I give [up] as many soft goals in a month [that] I give up in threeyears,” Vokoun said. “It’s such a fine line.
“Sometimes you [are] just one step [slow], too early down, or you don’t track the puck like you’re supposed to. Unfortunately for goalie, you make one mistake in the game, or two, and it looks terrible.”