Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun to miss at least 3-6 months after clot
October 2, 2013 7:25 PM
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun makes a save against the Senators in the first period.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The prognosis, at least for Tomas Vokoun, is quite encouraging.
He had a procedure recently to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis, but has been assured by the medical professionals treating him that he can do just about anything he wants.
Except to play hockey.
For a minimum of three months, and, perhaps, as many as six.
Which means the Penguins suddenly face the challenge of playing at least a half-season, and possibly much more, without one of the NHL's better backup goaltenders.
Vokoun reinforced his reputation as a No. 1-caliber goalie when he replaced Marc-Andre Fleury four games into the Penguins' opening-round playoff series in the spring and held onto the job through the Eastern Conference final. But with him removed from the mix for no fewer than three months, and perhaps forever, Jeff Zatkoff -- whose next save in an NHL regular-season game will be his first -- takes over as Fleury's partner.
And, according to general manager Ray Shero, will be allowed to prove whether he is worthy of retaining the job. There are, Shero said Wednesday, no front-burner plans to look outside the organization for someone to replace Vokoun.
"I want to go with the goaltending we have here and see how we do," he said. "Like with anything with your hockey team, you'll evaluate as you go."
Coach Dan Bylsma offered an effusive assessment of Zatkoff's performance in training camp -- "He's been spectacular. He's worked hard. He's made some great saves" -- but acknowledged that he likely will carry a lighter workload than Vokoun would have.
"There will be a different approach, in terms of the schedule and the games for the goaltenders, based on the fact that it's Jeff Zatkoff and not Tomas Vokoun," Bylsma said. "However, in this schedule, we do have a lot of games back-to-back.
"There will be a fair amount of games for Jeff Zatkoff to play. Instead of being a 60-40 split, it might be a little bit higher, in terms of Marc playing a few more games, but Jeff's still going to be counted on to go in and play, and some of those are going to be big games for us."
Vokoun's career has been put on hold because he is scheduled to continue taking blood thinners for at least the next three months.
"During this time, he's OK to work out, he's OK to do everything except play hockey," Shero said. "We'll evaluate this as we go along, but this obviously is not a short-term situation."
If, after three months, doctors conclude the blood thinners no longer are necessary, Vokoun will have the option to resume playing. If not, he will remain on the medication -- and off the ice -- for as long as the doctors deem prudent.
"Right now, I'm not thinking about my career or playing hockey," Vokoun said. "I'm more worried about long-term health."
Vokoun said this problem, which surfaced in an on-ice workout Sept. 21 at Consol Energy Center, is not related to a similar one he experienced seven years ago while playing for Nashville. That one, he said, was traced to medical treatments he received while doctors were trying to save his life after he had been badly burned as a young child.
"Even though it looks similar, the doctors think it's not necessarily tied together, that one happened because of the other," Vokoun said.
Shero and Vokoun said doctors have determined that the source of his problem is not genetic; if it were, he would have had to retire immediately.
"The good thing for him is, he can lead an active life and do the things he does," Shero said. "We'll see where it goes, and hope for the best for him, in the short term and the long term."