Vokoun adjusting to a better defense?

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Adjusting to a new team can be tough for any player—but even more so for a goaltender jumping to a contender. Tomas Vokoun is making the adjustment as he gets increased playing time between the pipes for the talented Washington Capitals this season. But for Vokoun, it isn’t necessarily the new city that has caused him to fine-tune his game—it’s the players in front of him. It’s not that the players in front of him are poor players making his life more difficult. Instead, the Capitals are almost too good at times and can leave Vokoun action less for long stretches. It’s a psychological battle the 35-year-old has never had to deal with in his career.

Throughout his 13-year NHL career, Vokoun has been a goaltender who always faced a lot of shots. The perfect example has been over the last few season in Florida where the team defense (and overall talent level) left plenty to be desired. Vokoun would be forced to make save after save to keep the Panthers in games on a nightly basis. It’s tough to face that much rubber each night, but it made it much easier for the Czech veteran to mentally get into each game. In Washington, less action means more pressure when the opponents get a scoring opportunity.

Tomas Vokoun talked about some of the underrated struggles to Chuck Gormley at CSN Washington:

“I’m used to getting lots of shots and being in the game and feeling the puck. That’s not the case here. You can go one period with 15 shots and the next one you might get two. As much as it seems it’s easier when you’re not getting shots, it’s the toughest time for a goalie because of your concentration level – you tend to start wandering and looking up at the score and wondering if they’ll get a breakaway.”

Blues’ color-commentator Darren Pang talked about the same phenomenon with Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. Its one thing to make 40 saves every night—there’s less pressure that way. If the team losses after giving up a ton of shots, then it’s the responsibility of the defense to pull things together. But if the team plays well, gives up 20 shots on goal, and the team loses—then the goaltender gets the blame.

Vokoun’s getting a real-life lesson this season.

Aside from the mental challenges, Vokoun and his defensemen are learning how to deal with one another on the ice.

“…it’s a work in progress. 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.”

If this is what it looks like when Vokoun is struggling, then the rest of the league should worry about the Capitals. The newcomer is 3-0 in his first three starts in Washington with a .922 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average. He’s steadily improved in each of his three games with the Caps and hopes he can continue the trend on Tuesday against the Panthers. If he can, Washington looks like they may have the dependable veteran in net they’ve needed for the last few years.

Look out.

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.

 

Report: Defenseman Viktor Antipin expected to join Sabres next week

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Earlier this month it was reported that defenseman Viktor Antipin was on the verge of joining the Buffalo Sabres after terminating his contract in the KHL.

Following the IIHF World Hockey Championships on Sunday, where Antipin was a key player for the Russian team that won the Bronze Medal, Antipin told a Russian news outlet (via the Buffalo News) that he will be leaving for Buffalo on May 29th so that he can join the Sabres.

The 24-year-old Antipin spent the past six years playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL.

In 59 games this past season he scored six goals and added 18 assists.

He had a really strong showing at the recent World Championship tournament, playing close to 18 minutes per game and recording four assists to go with a plus-five rating.

The Sabres defense was a major sore spot this season as the team took a pretty significant step backward in its ongoing rebuild, resulting in the firing of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. As a team the Sabres allowed more than 34 shots on goal per game (the worst mark in the league) and 2.82 goals per game (20th in the league).

The only defensemen the Sabres have under contract for the 2017-18 season at the moment are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk so Antipin should get a pretty good opportunity to get a significant role right from the start.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.