It is not often the key change on a championship-calibre team is the backup goaltender.
But when the Pittsburgh Penguins were upset in the NHL playoffs last spring by the Philadelphia Flyers, Penguins general manager Ray Shero determined the best thing to do was bring in a veteran to push incumbent Marc-Andre Fleury, who did not play well.
Shero made a trade with the Washington Capitals for Tomas Vokoun, 36, someone he knew well from his six years as assistant GM with the Nashville Predators.
While Shero says Vokoun’s presence as both competition and as a sounding board have made Fleury better, a happy side effect is an overall benefit for the team concerning the compressed 48-game schedule due to the lockout. By necessity there are lots of back-to-back games at home and on the road and runs of three games in four nights.
With a capable sidekick, Fleury does not have to shoulder the balance of that load. On Saturday, for example, he beat the New Jersey Devils 5-1 in Pittsburgh and then rested Sunday while Vokoun ran up a 6-3 win over his former team.
“We put a lot into that game [Saturday],” Shero said. “Marc played well, the team played well and now he knows Tomas is coming in [Sunday], he can get ready for next week. It’s worked out well for both players.” Vokoun said he came to Pittsburgh with a long playoff run in mind, not being the No. 1 goaltender. “I had opportunities to go to teams where I could have been in a better personal situation but I played for a long time in this league and I haven’t been fortunate in a way to be in the playoffs and get that good feeling.”
Fleury is 3-2 in five games but he sports a 2-0 record on the road, where he has a 0.96 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage. Vokoun, 36, is now 3-1 on the season.
Vokoun also said Fleury has not reacted as if he is a threat to his job: “It is even easier than I anticipated. He’s a funny, positive guy.”