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.