Vokoun gives Caps veteran presence in goal


Tomas Vokoun, a new acquisition of the Capitals, stops the puck with his skate while playing for the Florida Panthers against the Chicago Blackhawks this past spring. (JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES)
July 11, 2011

Over the course of his tenure, Coach Bruce Boudreau has never hesitated to switch goaltenders, whether in the regular season or playoffs, if he believes it gives the Washington Capitals a better chance to win.

While that attitude won’t change, Boudreau acknowledged Monday that it’s hard not to consider veteran Tomas Vokoun the top netminder in the organization at this stage of the year.

The addition of Vokoun, 35, brings an established NHL presence back to the Capitals’ net for the first time since Jose Theodore was on the roster in 2009-10. But simply having more experience doesn’t necessarily strengthen a goaltender’s hold on the starting spot, as was evidenced by Boudreau favoring Semyon Varlamov over Theodore in two consecutive postseasons, and rotating among Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in 2010-11.

When asked if Vokoun and the 23-year-old Neuvirth would have a genuine compeition for the top spot in Washington, Boudreau said the 35-year-old Czech’s experience all but pencils him into that role — at least for now.

“We’re always going to play who we think is the best,” Boudreau said. “But if you’re looking at a guy that’s had the experience and done everything and if they’re a number one goalie . . . You’ve got to give Vokoun the respect that he’s coming in and he’s going to be the number one guy. We’ll see where it goes from there.”

Boudreau, like many, dubbed the signing of Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million contract a coup for General Manager George McPhee and admitted he didn’t expect the addition, either.

But both Boudreau and new associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig said they believe the presence of Vokoun, and his more than 600 games of NHL experience, can only help the rest of Washington’s goaltending depth chart.

“The kids we have here are obviously very talented,” Kolzig said, “but there’s also something to be said for mentorship and having a guy like Tomas around and his experience, and he’s a fantastic goalie.”

Said Boudreau: “He’s a top, elite goalie in the NHL and now I think we’ve got two really good goalies. Even though we had all the faith in the world — and we weren’t making it up -- with Braden and Michal. It gives a chance for Braden to play a little bit more before he’s thrown into the fire, so I think it works out well.”

Eakin sets sights high

Cody Eakin will be one of the most watched and scrutinized prospects in attendance at this season’s development camp. The 20-year-old center is set to turn pro in the fall, and the question that looms is where he will play: Washington or Hershey?

Eakin responded diplomatically when asked directly if he’s ready to make the leap from juniors to the NHL.

“That’s where I’ve set my goals,” Eakin said. “I am coming to camp to make the team, and if I don’t, that’s the way it goes and I’ll play where I end up.”

A year ago, Eakin impressed the Capitals’ coaches to the point that they strongly considered keeping him in Washington, before electing to send him back to the Western Hockey League, where the Winnipeg native continued to develop for one more season while holding key roles on both junior and national teams.

Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Monday that he expects Eakin to compete with free agent signee Mattias Sjogren, 23, from Sweden, and Hershey regular Mathieu Perreault for what at this point would appear to be one spot on the NHL roster when training camp takes place in September.

“I just look at him out here — it’s day one of a development camp in July — and he’s got that determination that he’s coming in to make the team,” Boudreau said. “He’s going to be in tremendous shape and he’s going to do, I think, whatever it takes to stick. He’s got that mentality.”

carrerak@washpost.com

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