Ottawa Senators v Washington Capitals

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.

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.