Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 12/17/11

UNIONDALE, NY - JANUARY 21: Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers tends net against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on January 21, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

During the trading season, everyone in the hockey world was sending kudos to Washington’s General Manager, George McPhee for his acquisition of Florida’s Tomas Vokoun.  In fact, Washington’s NBC 4 said: “If there was an award for an off-season NHL MVP, it may have to go to Capitals general manager George McPhee” when he signed the veteran goaltender for the bargain price of $1.5M.  To be fair, there were other deals that played into the praise for McPhee, but the Vokoun deal was the one that received the most attention.  After all, Vokoun reportedly turned down more money to come to the Washington.  Having played in just eleven playoff games in 13 seasons, he seemed to want to play for a team that had a real shot to win the Cup.

Now having three goalies — Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth, and the then Capitals starter Semyon Varlamov, another part of the summer swaps was to trade Varlamov to Colorado for two top draft picks.  Shortly thereafter, then coach Bruce Boudreau announced, before camp had even opened, that Vokoun was to be the Capitals #1 goalie.

So, thirty games into this season, let’s take a look at how all of this worked out.

Vokoun’s season start was less than auspicious.  He didn’t get the nod to start on opening night, and his backup Michael Neuvirth held the Carolina Hurricanes to three goals and garnered a win in overtime.  Two days later, Washington fans filled Verizon Center to watch Vokoun’s debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Most left scratching their heads wondering how great a deal this was after all when Vokoun gave up five goals on just 28 shots.  To be honest, more than a third of the way through the regular season, not all that much has changed.

Tomas Vokoun has a save percentage of 0.906, which puts him in the bottom half of NHL goalies.  His GAA is 2.81, which puts him in the bottom third.  To be fair, the Capitals defense gives up a lot of shots per game (they are in the bottom half of NHL teams in that category), but at the end of the day, Vokoun has given up more than his fair share of soft goals.  Most recently, versus the injury decimated Philadelphia Flyers, he gave up four goals on 21 shots in the first two periods and was benched by the Capitals new coach, Dale Hunter.

The rumblings that it was time to bring up the top goalie prospect from the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, had started.  Hunter decided to go with his ‘backup’ goalie, Michal Neuvirth.  Coming into the game against the Winnipeg Jets two nights ago, Neuvirth was worst in the league in GAA (3.76) and save percentage (0.873).  To add to the pressure facing this young (23 years old) goalie was the recollection that about a month earlier, the Jets had embarrassed him, tallying four goals on just 31 shots.

Washington fans were glued to the televisions holding their breath.  No need, however — Neuvirth’s game against the Jets was flawless.  He shut out Winnipeg despite their 26 shots on goal.  The numbers don’t tell the whole story, however, as several of his saves were simply incredible and seemed to lift the team’s overall performance.

So, where does that leave Dale Hunter?  There is still a lot of hockey to be played in the regular season — and the Capitals would not even make the playoffs if the season were to end today.  It appears to this correspondent that Michal Neuvirth has earned himself another few starts between the pipes.  Let’s see if that can make a difference in the struggling Capitals performance.

Let’s Go Caps!


This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.


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