VANCOUVER, B.C. — It’s common during Washington Capitals practices this season to see a forward shaking his head as he skates back into line during a drill, puzzled by how easily Tomas Vokoun turned away his shot. The veteran netminder’s efficient movements can make even laser shots from stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin look pedestrian as they hit his pad.
Vokoun’s calm in net extend to his businesslike approach to being a team’s go-to goaltender. From being one of the first players at the rink every day to methodically stretching his 35-year-old limbs before and after each practice, or remaining unflappable whether he gives up a goal or has a bad game, his composure is evident to his teammates, who find that his ease is rubbing off on them.
Vokoun had a bumpy night Saturday, when he was pulled after the first period of Washington’s 7-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, but he has had little problem fitting in though he has worn a Capitals jersey for less than a month.
“It’s been real easy for me. We have a great locker room, [Coach] Bruce [Boudreau] is an easy guy to talk to,” Vokoun said before making his eighth consecutive start Saturday night. “It’s fun to be going into every game and knowing if you play right you’re probably going to win.”
After Saturday’s game, Vokoun blamed himself for the Canucks’ first goal, saying he made a mistake when he went to play the puck, but he didn’t appear to have much of a chance on either of the power-play goals he allowed in the first period — one off a rebound and the other through traffic.
Several Capitals said their defensive miscues against the Canucks left Vokoun out to dry but Boudreau said he didn’t believe the veteran was on point.
“My thoughts were, I just didn’t think Tomas was very sharp,” Boudreau said. “He played eight games in a row at a very high level. I thought the first and third goals weren’t very good.”
Before Saturday’s loss, Vokoun’s steadiness was apparent in his .940 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average. Since allowing five goals on 28 shots in a shootout win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 10, his Washington debut, Vokoun hadn’t given up more than two goals in a contest until Saturday. He was brilliant in leading the Capitals to wins over fellow expected contenders Philadelphia (40 saves) and Detroit (32 saves).
“He’s very calm,” forward Brooks Laich said before Saturday’s game. “If he gives up a goal, he doesn’t really care. He’s going to make the next save, and that has such a calming effect on the hockey team. We don’t panic and say, ‘We have to tighten up defensively.’ We know Tomas is going to be there to stop the puck. He’s very calming and very assuring to the rest of us.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner added of Vokoun: “He gets the job done, and when he is out there you know exactly what to expect from him. There’s no confusion, no question about if he’s ready or how he’ll react to things. That makes it fun to just go out there and play as hard as you can in front of him. He’s been incredible.”
While Vokoun’s on-ice adjustment and acclimation to the Washington dressing room has been simple enough, the Czech native is coping with a significantly different life away from the rink.
After signing his one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Capitals on July 2, Vokoun and his wife Dagmar decided he would move to Washington alone while she and their two daughters, Adelle, 11, and Natalie, 5, would remain in Parkland, Fla. Though Vokoun didn’t want to uproot his children only to face another potential move after becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer, he had never been apart from his family for an extended period of time.
So for now, Vokoun looks forward to talking to his family on Skype, as well as weekends and breaks in his daughters’ school schedule that allow the family to visit. Vokoun added that Boudreau told him when the Capitals have several days between games he will be able to go to Florida to spend time with his family, which meant a great deal to the goaltender.
“For me it’s hard not to see them every day. That’s probably the hardest part of this whole thing,” Vokoun said. “But nothing comes free, right? For me to get a chance to play on a good team, it came with a sacrifice from me, my wife and kids, and it’s tough but it’s a chance for me to give it a shot. Either it works out or it doesn’t, but at least I have the chance to be able to win. People take that for granted sometimes when they’re on the good team all the time. It’s not always like that.”