Newcomers Vokoun, Sutter buoy Penguins
Here's how much Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun's life has changed since the most recent time he lived in this area:
“I didn't speak any English,” the native Czech said of his season (1995-96) with the Wheeling, W.Va., Thunderbirds of the East Coast Hockey League. “It wasn't the easiest time for me.”
It was so long ago that Vokoun's Penguins teammate Brandon Sutter was just learning to skate. Now they are new but important parts of the Penguins team that will begin the lockout-shortened NHL season next week.
Vokoun, 36, signed a two-year, $4 million contract to back up No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and keep both players fresh for the entire season.
Sutter, 23, was obtained in the trade that sent center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes and also brought a first-round draft choice and defenseman Brian Demoulin to the Penguins.
Vokoun is thankful for the chance the Penguins gave him after he said he “ripped a groin muscle in two pieces” last season with the Washington Capitals and missed two months.
The presence of two veterans in net gives Penguins coach Dan Bylsma options.
“Marc is our No. 1. He will be in there for the first game,” Bylsma said. “But it's fair to say he needs more support than he got last year, and we like what Tomas gives us there.”
Vokoun will gladly accept his role.
“Whatever chances I'm going to get to play, that is probably totally up to me and how I play and how confident they feel in me,” he said. After 680 regular-season games in the NHL, with 48 career shutouts, he wants to play for a winner. Since 1996, he has participated in only 11 playoff games.
“My decision (to sign with the Penguins) was based on I don't have that many more years to play and I want to be in a winning atmosphere and part of success,” he said.
Fleury was 10 when he first started watching Vokoun, who was drafted in the ninth round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1994.
“We play a little different,” Fleury said. “He is a little more stand-up and is very patient also.”
Patience was something Sutter needed to find during the lockout that delayed his Penguins debut.
“I was looking forward to getting started right away,” he said.
One of the youngest members of hockey's famous Sutter family — his uncle Darryl is coach of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings — Sutter went home to Red Deer, Alberta, where he worked out with his former junior team.
Sutter, who had 52 goals and 49 assists with the Hurricanes the past three seasons, didn't arrive in Pittsburgh until Tuesday night, but he said he feels comfortable with his new teammates after one day of informal workouts.
He doesn't know where he will fit in Bylsma's system, but he could be part of situational lines with Evgeni Malkin on offensive zone faceoffs.
“They obviously have a very talented group,” he said. “I've had to play against them enough to know that.”