Sunday, June 10, 2012

2011-2012 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun

Tomas Vokoun

Theme: “Those who trust to chance must abide by the results of chance.”
-- Calvin Coolidge

(click pic for larger image)

In the end, it was too perfect. For Tomas Vokoun, it was a chance – finally – after toiling skillfully for teams that did not have nearly enough skill around him to make a dent in the playoffs to bring those skills to a team with enough talent to make the best use of it for a deep Stanley Cup playoff run. For the Washington Capitals, they had the talented veteran puck-stopper they lacked since the early 2000’s when Olaf Kolzig was playing large in net for Capitals teams that made the playoffs three times in four seasons.

What made the signing of Tomas Vokoun even better was that he came to the Caps on a platter – a $1.5 million platter, the discount cost for a goaltender who among goaltenders playing in at least 200 games since the lockout had the second best cumulative save percentage (.921, to Tim Thomas’ .922) and who had the third highest number of shutouts (36, to Roberto Luongo’s 37 and Henrik Lundqvist’s 43). The one thing the Caps never seemed to have with any regularity – a top-notch goaltender when they had the skating talent to match – was now in place.

Well, that was the plan, anyway. It did not even survive the first game of the season, in a manner of speaking. Vokoun – fourth among all goaltenders in games played since the lockout (401) got baseball cap duty for the Caps’ season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes. The object lesson was not lost on Vokoun, who appeared in each of the next nine games, posting a 7-1-0, 2.36, .920 record with one shutout. It would be by far his most effective ten-game segment of the season in terms of wins and losses.

What followed, though, was brutal by his standards. In his next two ten-game segments he appeared in 13 games, posting a 5-7-0 win-loss record with a 3.16 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. And by that time, the Caps were stuck in eighth place but only one point ahead of 13th-place Ottawa.

It was almost as if a switch flipped to the “on” position in Vokoun’s game at that point. He appeared in 22 of the next 30 games, and his numbers improved dramatically over those three ten-game segments. He had a 2.23 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage over that span with three shutouts to go along. But the Caps weren’t taking advantage. Vokoun was 11-8-2 in those 22 appearances and was the beneficiary of a Caps offense that scored only 2.27 goals-per-game over those 22 appearances, including three times they were shut out.

That would be the high-water mark of the season in terms of Vokoun’s play, though. He played in only four of the next 18 games for the Caps, eventually sustaining a lower-body injury that would end his season with a performance against the Boston Bruins on March 29th in which he lasted only 18:25. Perhaps typical of a season in which promise was unfulfilled, he stopped all seven shots he saw in that game. He finished with just 48 appearances, his second fewest since the lockout. His 25 wins were not a significant improvement on the 23 and 22 wins he posted with a struggling Florida Panther team in the two seasons preceding this one. His .917 save percentage was his lowest since the lockout. Overall, here is how his numbers compare with last season’s:

Odd Vokoun Fact… Caps fans will not like this, given where Vokoun’s career is taking him. He was 3-0-0, 0.33, .988 with two shutouts of his last team, the Florida Panthers. He rather average against everyone else -- 22-17-2, 2.67, .912, with two shutouts. Let’s hope he is not as rough on his next “last” team as he was on this year’s.

Game to Remember… January 11, 2012. After Nicklas Backstrom was injured on January 3rd (causing thim to miss the next 40 games with a concussion) the Caps lost consecutive 5-2 decisions on the west coast to San Jose and Los Angeles. Then they came home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were feeling a bit ornery after losing their last five games. The Penguins put pressure on Vokoun and the Caps early (including taking an early goaltender interference penalty), but Vokoun was up to the challenge. He stopped all nine shots faced in the first period, while Jason Chimera scored for the Caps to give the home team a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. Vokoun did better in the second period, stopping all 11 shots he faced, then made that lone goal stand up in the third with ten more saves. The 30-save, 1-0 shutout halted the Caps’ short slide and was the first win on their way to winning four of five games, two of them by shutout.

Game to Forget…. October 10, 2011. Having been given a seat on the bench in the season opener, Vokoun might have wanted to make a point in his first appearance for the Capitals. He got his chance in the team’s second game, a home-ice affair against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was not the greatest of starts. Tampa Bay scored on their first shot on Vokoun when Teddy Purcell scored at 2:22 of the first period. The Caps would then be in catch-up mode, but not, take-the-lead mode. They tied the game when Marcus Johansson scored 2:27 after Purcell’s goal, but then the Lightning took the lead back when Bruno Gervais scored four minutes later.

Dennis Wideman tied the game again late in the first period, but the Lightning solved Vokoun again in the first minute of the second period when Dominic Moore scored. Troy Brouwer tied the game less than four minutes after Moore’s goal, and Jason Chimera finally put the Caps ahead with a goal 4:00 into the third period. But Vokoun could not hold the lead. Tampa Bay took it back with goals by Nate Thompson and Brett Clark. Chimera saved the Caps at least one standings point when he tied it with only 2:44 remaining in regulation time. Vokoun stopped all five shots he faced in overtime and both shots he faced in the trick shot round to secure the win. But allowing five goals on 28 shots was probably not the way his first game as a Capital was scripted. Seems it was truly forgettable since Vokoun would go 6-1-0, 2.03, .932 with one shutout in his next eight appearances.

Post-Season… That for which Vokoun was really brought on board – to lead the Caps deep into the post-season – blew up with his groin on March 29th. He did not make an appearance after that.

In the end… Vokoun took a chance on signing a one-year deal with the Caps. He could be the last piece of a puzzle that defied solution for four seasons, the Caps never advancing past the second round. That he would take that chance with a $1.5 million contract was betting that his performance might be parlayed into a larger deal, either with the Caps or another team, when he demonstrated he could translate his skill into success. Given what transpired – Vokoun not enjoying a season that compared with his recent record of efficiency and missing the playoffs altogether – you might have thought the chance Vokoun took did not pan out. That was until his rights were traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he signed a two-year/$4.0 million deal. He has what for him is a so-so year overall, doesn’t play a minute in the playoffs, and gets a contract with a raise and longer term. With the Caps’ archrival.

These things only seem to happen to the Caps.

Grade: B-

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