The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night in a thrilling 6-5 victory in a shootout. With what should have been sweet revenge and an epic beginning to a new season, it ended with Caps fans questioning their goaltending...again.
What the Caps hoped they solved in the offseason were their goaltending woes. For the last few seasons, the Caps have had enough firepower and weapons to compete for the ultimate prize, but having a steady presence in net has eluded them.
It certainly has not been the fault of Cristobal Huet, Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth as to why Capitals have not lived up to their playoff potential. At the same time, in recent years, the Caps have never had the comfort of having that "go-to" guy in the crease.
This past summer, hope was restored when management went out and signed veteran Tomas Vokoun to a one-year $1.5 million contract. Vokoun has had a very strong 12-year NHL career, and at the age of 35, the Caps are hopeful he has enough left to finally get them to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In all fairness to Vokoun, he did get the win on Monday, and he did not concede a goal in the shootout. His counterpart at the other end of the ice, 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, was unimpressive, and perhaps, Tampa Bay fans should start wondering as well.
The question is, with such limited experience in pressure filled environments, will Vokoun be able to deliver when the Caps need it most? The Capitals do have the ingredients to be considered serious Cup contenders, so as the season goes along and the playoffs approach, is this the guy?
In his 12-year career, Tomas Vokoun has seen the postseason once, and it was for five games. Playing his entire NHL career in non-hockey markets (Florida and Nashville), he has never been in an environment where winning is the expectation.
When in Florida with the Panthers, his teams were miserable. If Florida would come to an opposing building or be hosting for that matter, it was never a game that was marked off on anyone's calendar as one of significance. In fact, the games were meaningless once the new year arrived.
When you play for the Washington Capitals, teams are gunning for you. You can count on the opposition bringing their A-game night in and night out. It's a much different ballgame than anything he is used to in the NHL. When you play in a disinterested environment for the bulk of your NHL career, is it too late to be prepared for the pressure cooker?
In their first contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps opted to go with Michal Neuvirth. He delivered a win, making 28 saves on the night. It was the original plan to give each goalie a start in the first two games, but ultimately, the Capitals are hoping that Vokoun will come into his own and emerge as the starter. If he has too many nights like he did on Monday, it's hard to imagine that being the case.
After facing 28 shots, and allowing five goals, three of which from off-angle shots in the same corner of the rink, Caps fans have reason for concern.
Panic time? Of course not, the Caps are 2-0, but this is certainly a situation to to keep an eye on. In recent years, the Caps have missed opportunities to win the Stanley Cup, and they can ill-afford to have goaltending be an issue this season.
If Vokoun cannot get it together in the upcoming months, would the Caps feel comfortable with Neuvirth as their playoff netminder? If not, do not be shocked to see the Caps looking for another solution near or before the trade deadline.
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