With the Caps surging (7-3-0) and just one point back of Southeast Division-leading Florida, head coach Dale Hunter isn’t messing with success — he’s giving goaltender Tomas Vokoun his 10th straight start tonight against the Islanders.
The 10 consecutive starts marks a season high for any Caps goalie this year and all but cements Vokoun as Hunter’s No. 1, something that wasn’t always the case. The low point of Vokoun’s season coincided with the Boudreau-Hunter coaching change — from Nov. 15 to Dec. 26 he went 4-8, getting yanked in a 7-1 loss to Toronto and a 5-1 loss to Philly — and seemed in real danger of losing his starting gig to Michal Neuvirth.
But that no longer appears the case as Vokoun’s recent run of inspired play has bolted Neuvirth to the pine. The 35-year-old Czech netminder is 7-2 in the previous nine games having stopped 267 of 284 shots for a .940 save-percentage and 1.97 goals-against average — numbers that even Neuvirth recognizes as tough to beat.
“Tomas is playing great right now. Nothing I can do other than work hard,” Neuvirth told the Washington Post. “It’s pretty tough. But Tomas been good right now. He’s been good and he’s winning. So why would we change anything?”
As for Vokoun, he seems to appreciate the heavy workload Hunter’s piled on. It’s nothing new — Vokoun once played 73 games for the Predators one season — but a little different now that he’s a little longer in the tooth and the ninth-oldest goalie in the NHL.
“For me it’s a lot tougher when you play once in awhile, when you gotta kind of build the momentum every time you play then you sit for a long time, don’t know how you’re going to respond,” Vokoun said. “For me, it’s not a problem I’m somewhat used to that, to me it’s an easier way to play than the other way around.”
For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.
Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.
But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.
Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.
When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.
Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.
The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.
Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.
This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.
Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.
Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.
Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.
Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?
Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.
Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.
Official update on the really important story of the evening:
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.
Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.