Penguins' Tomas Vokoun gets OK to practice and play
February 19, 2014 10:05 PM
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been medically cleared, but he’s unsure how the long layoff will affect him.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun can practice. He returned to a full session Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
Vokoun can play whenever he is ready. Doctors have told him so.
What Vokoun won’t do is be anything other than fair to himself and the Penguins.
“If I don’t feel like I’ll be helping or I’m not where I need to be to play, I’m not going to try to get in [the lineup] and be a burden to the team,” Vokoun said, speaking publicly for the first time since he was allowed to discontinue taking blood-thinners.
Vokoun had not practiced since September when he had a medical procedure to dissolve a blood clot.
The Penguins were still in training camp then. Now, they are about to enter the stretch run.
He has not played since the 2013 spring, when he supplanted struggling No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs.
The practice Wednesday was the team’s first since the Olympic break began Feb. 8 and featured the 12 healthy players who are not in Sochi for the Winter Games. Vokoun skated a handful of times and took shots from a few teammates before the break, but Wednesday he faced shots from multiple players during various drills.
“It’s nice … to get some shots,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back on the ice and be with the guys. Feeling pretty good.
“My agenda is to practice and see how I feel and how it goes. We’ll see. I’m trying to get back, see how I feel, making sure my health holds up. Obviously, [being out] for five months, you never know.”
Vokoun, 37, is under contract only through this season. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff, pressed into NHL service in Vokoun’s absence, has been more than capable as Fleury’s backup, going 9-2-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
Fleury has bounced back to go 31-13-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. He leads the NHL in wins.
There has been speculation that Vokoun is done as a Penguins player, and, perhaps as an NHL player, but he is not going through the motions. He is conducting himself as if he is going to play.
“I have to,” he said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be out here. Saying that, you just never know what’s going to happen. The team showed interest in me coming back. I’m still a paid player, under contract.
“It’s nicer for me, either way that it’s going to end up, if I didn’t finish my career in the stands and watching [but instead] finish as a player. I’m putting everything into it and trying to get in good shape and, hopefully, come back to playing.”
If Vokoun is able to play and is effective, the Penguins would need to decide whether to keep three goaltenders. They could send Zatkoff back to the minor leagues. Vokoun has proven he can be a reliable alternative should Fleury struggle again in the postseason.
Vokoun isn’t thinking that far ahead.
“It’s not easy,” he said of overcoming a long layoff, “but I’ve played for a long time. As you get older, you realize how quickly the times goes past, and you miss hockey. It’s nice to be back and be part of the team, whatever my role is.”
With a light crew for practice, the team used a third net, set up in front of the penalty boxes, for part of the session, but having three goaltenders in practice regularly presents challenges for any team.
“We were happy to have him back,” said Todd Reirden, who ran practice along with fellow Penguins assistant Jacques Martin and goaltending coach Mike Bales.
“With three goaltenders, it’s a matter of being a little creative at times.
“We’ll continue to be creative through this process of getting him back and ready to play.”
NOTES — Forwards Beau Bennett, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner, each recovering from wrist injuries, skated after practice. … Defenseman Kris Letang, recovering from a stroke, watched much of practice but did not skate. … The team pushed its practice back by a half-hour to be able to watch the end of two Olympic quarterfinals that involved Canada and the United States.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.
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