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.”