I remember two summers ago when the Washington Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun. In my view, he had been one of the premier goaltenders in the National Hockey League for several years by that point, having posted a save percentage of less than .910 just once in the previous eight seasons.
That’s a lot of really good work, and a lot of it had been done in anonymity because his two teams during that time were the Nashville Predators and the Florida Panthers, not exactly the most-watched or best teams in the league by any stretch of the most fanciful imaginations.
So when the Caps signed him, ostensibly to replace Semyon Varmlamov (who had previously been traded to Colorado under hilarious circumstances) and serve as a bridge and mentor to either Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby, I figured that you could put a fork in the Eastern Conference. It was all over. The Caps, behind Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom, and in front of Vokoun, whose save percentage in the previous three seasons never dipped below .922, were going to win it in a runaway.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. In fact, Vokoun lost his job late in the season and only ended up playing 48 games, his lowest single-season total since 2006-07. His save percentage slipped to just .917 because of good-but-not-great even strength work (.927, tied for 13th among goalies with 40 appearances or more), and for some strange reason he was catching a lot of blame, didn’t see a second in the playoffs, and decided to ship up to Pittsburgh this summer.
And where he was less than his usual self but still above average last season, this year he is white-hot garbage. He’s gotten into seven games, including last night’s debacle against the hated Flyers, and has a save percentage of just .899. At even strength, it’s just .918, having conceded 12 on 147 shots.
So what happened to this guy? Is he just old? Like, old as hell? All of a sudden? He’s 36 now, sure, and that’s not exactly conducive to running into the best years of your career unless you’re Tim Thomas or Dwayne Roloson or whatever. But to drop off a cliff that suddenly is a little surprising. You can pin it on a small sample size, one supposes, but the teams Vokoun has played aren’t exactly all world-beaters.
Apart from a bizarre and out-of-character shutout against the Rangers on Jan. 31, Vokoun has allowed three goals or more in every start this season, including six on 32 last night against the Flyers. And worse, he’s just looked bad on most of them. He was a good three feet out of the crease (and replaced by five teammates) on that fire-drill first goal. Wayne Simmonds torched him at the side of the net on the second and went around him like he wasn’t even there. Gave up a massive rebound on Jake Voracek’s third goal. As with the first goal, he was way out of position for the fourth, also by Voracek. And on the sixth and deciding goal, he let a Voracek shot from behind the goal line beat him.
Ugly stuff, and perhaps the consequence of One Bad Night. But man, it seems like he’s having more and more of those these days, and that goalie who used to be really good but fly under the radar now has everyone’s full attention because he’s embarrassing himself on national television.
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