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Vokoun focused on playoffs, not Fleury's job

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun during practice at Consol Energy Center Jan. 9, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chaz Palla/For The Valley Independent
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal for tonight's Game 5.

Some facts about new Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun: His career goals-against average (2.55) is better than Marc-Andre Fleury's (2.68), and his career save percentage (.917) ranks better than Fleury's (.909).

Also, Vokoun's 287 wins rank sixth among active goaltenders and 31st in NHL history.

Here's another, straight from Vokoun: There is no goaltending controversy, nor will there be one.

Fleury's implosion in the playoffs against Philadelphia — and the team's decision to trade for and pay Vokoun $4 million over two years — raised eyebrows, but Vokoun shrugs off speculation like he historically does pucks.

“Listen,” he said, his voice friendly but firm. “There is never going to be a controversy. With all due respect to the fans — and I know Pittsburgh has great fans — they do not dictate who is playing. It's simple to me. I just need to be available to play whenever they need me. And I'm OK with that. We have a coach, and he says who will play. And that's the way it should be.”

Coach Dan Bylsma says Fleury is his starter.

“Marc is our No. 1,” he said. “He is in for our first game.”

The Penguins haven't always made the backup goaltender a priority in recent years. Brent Johnson struggled during the 2011-12 season, but the organization never replaced him, a cameo from career minor leaguer Brad Thiessen notwithstanding.

Even during the team's 2009 Stanley Cup season, backup goalie Mathieu Garon was hardly a household name.

Vokoun is different. He has been a starter for a decade, though he has never been surrounded by talent like this. His presence is noticeable.

Fleury simply shrugs, insisting he is pleased to welcome Vokoun.

“He's been a constant in this league for a long time,” Fleury said. “Just a good, patient goalie.”

The Penguins maintain that their patience with Fleury is not wearing thin, even though he has been pulled from a game in four of his last five playoff series.

Vokoun, 36, who most recently played in Washington, is only interested in experiencig a deep playoff run, even if that means just providing a calming voice for Fleury and a stout practice goalie during off days.

“I knew exactly what I was signing myself up for,” Vokoun said. “This wasn't about being the starting goalie or statistics. This was about the bigger picture. I wanted to come somewhere that had a winning environment. I probably had better individual opportunities with other teams, but this was the place for me. This is a place where you can win.”

The Penguins never said how much they expect Vokoun to play, but he should see significant playing time. Fleury appeared to wear down while playing 67 games last season.

With the Penguins set to play 48 games in 99 days, Vokoun can expect his share of playing time.

“They are going to need both of those guys,” said former Penguins coach and general manager Eddie Johnston, who coached the team during the 48-game season in 1995 and now serves as a team adviser. “You don't go through a schedule like that with only one guy. No way. And I think we're in good shape because we've got two good ones.”

No matter the success Vokoun may enjoy, he isn't concerned about the rotation.

“When I came here,” Vokoun said, “(Penguins general manager) Ray (Shero) told me that he wanted a good goaltending tandem. That's what we want to be.”

Fleury and Vokoun are two of the game's more personable players and the early stages of their relationship indicate it will be positive.

“He's just a happy guy, always positive,” Vokoun said. “I like that.”

Fleury is always positive, even with a goalie of Vokoun's stature sitting behind him.

“I've always had great relationships with other goalies on my team,” Fleury said. “I don't see why that would change this time.”

A conversation with agent Allan Walsh, who represents both goaltenders, convinced Vokoun that Pittsburgh would be a good fit.

“Marc shouldn't feel (threatened),” Vokoun said. “He's a great goalie. I've had great relationships with other goalies everywhere I've been. I just want to be part of a winner, no matter how much I play.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @joshyohe_trib.

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