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For years now, the Washington Capitals have been another team that has started each season with a question mark in nets. Since the decline of Olaf Kolzig near the turn of the new century, no one has appeared to take over the goaltending in Washington.
Tomas Vokoun should be the answer for at least the next few years. Vokoun, at age 35, may be ready to see his abilities begin to wane. He has been the best NHL goalie since 2005 playing for what has generally been the worst defensive team in the league during that period, the Florida Panthers.
Vokoun has taken a huge pay cut to play for what he believes is a Stanley Cup contender in Washington. He gets a chance to showcase his talents in the playoffs while the Capitals get a top-quality veteran goalie that they can fit, just barely, under the cap. Vokoun will earn $1.5 million for his one year in Washington. Michal Neuvirth, the backup goalie next season in Washington, is scheduled to earn $1.15 million a year for two years.
Tomas Vokoun had an eighth-best in the league .922 save percentage last year. Since the lockout, he has put up save percentages of .919, .920, .919, .926, .925 and .922. He has the best cumulative save percentage in the league while playing in 353 regular-season games over that six-year period.
His playoff experience has been limited to two series with the Nashville Predators. In the 2004 playoffs, he and the Predators lost a tightly contested six-game series to the Red Wings. He had a .939 save percentage, a 2.02 goals allowed average and one shutout during the series. He also played all the games in a five-game loss to the San Jose Sharks in 2006/07. He had a much less impressive .902 save percentage and 2.96 goals allowed average.
Vokoun and the Capitals will be very interested to see how he fares in front of a defense that gave up the ninth-fewest shots against in the league last year.
Michal Neuvirth, 23, got in 48 games last season for Washington and had a 27-12-4 record. His .914 save percentage, 2.45 goals allowed average and four shutouts left the Capitals free to deal their other highly regarded 23-year-old goalie, Semyon Varlamov, to the Colorado Avalanche, for a first- and second-round pick.
By trading Varlamov, the Capitals have created room in the organization for another quality goaltending prospect Braden Holtby. Holtby will be the starter in the AHL and may get a chance to play again with the Capitals. Last year, as a 21-year-old, he played in 14 games with the Capitals and had a .934 save percentage and stellar 1.79 goals allowed average. He posted two shutouts in his 14 games.
Tomas Vokoun has shown himself to be one of the best goalies in the league in the worst of circumstances. Playing for a top-quality team like the Capitals could help him win a Vezina at the rather advanced, Tim Thomas-like age of 35. Vokoun may be in decline, but he could be the best goalie in the NHL next year.
Just as the Flyers now have two Russians playing together, the Capitals are hoping for some sort of synergy with a couple of Czech goalies, one veteran, one newbie, playing together.