Pens' Vokoun out 3 to 6 months
The Penguins' goaltending situation has become a triangle of questions.
While already pondering if Marc-Andre Fleury can reclaim his status as an elite NHL goaltender and if Jeff Zatkoff possesses the ability to become a satisfactory backup, the Penguins can now wonder if Tomas Vokoun will ever play again.
Vokoun, out for the past two weeks after having emergency surgery to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis, met with the media on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center and explained he will miss three to six months of action. He emphasized the three-month estimate is the “minimum” amount of time he will miss.
“I'm not thinking about my career or hockey,” Vokoun said. “I'm thinking about my long term health.”
Vokoun will return to Florida with his family during his recuperation period, though he will frequently visit Pittsburgh for medical appointments. General manager Ray Shero said Vokoun's blood clot issues — he dealt with something similar seven years ago while playing with Nashville — are not genetic, which theoretically paves the way for a return to the NHL.
Vokoun is currently on blood thinners, which is preventing him from playing hockey.
“Physically, he's doing great,” Shero said. “Mentally, he's doing great. During this time, he's OK to work out, he's OK to do everything but play hockey. We'll evaluate this as we go along, but this obviously is not a short-term situation.”
The Penguins' questions between the pipes might not be short term, either.
Vokoun provided the Penguins with an exceptional security blanket, should Fleury's struggles continue. Although Fleury almost always excels in the regular season, his playoff struggles were concerning enough that the Penguins brought Vokoun onto the team 17 months ago, long before Fleury's implosion last spring against the Islanders.
Now, Fleury will be backed up by Zatkoff, who has never played an NHL game.
Coach Dan Bylsma and Shero offered Zatkoff a strong vote of confidence.
“There will be a different approach (because of) the fact that it's Jeff Zatkoff and not Tomas Vokoun,” said Bylsma, who said the original plan for Fleury to play 60 percent of the games will now see him play a higher total.
“But we do have a lot of back-to-back games, and there will be times where we play three games in five days. It will still be a fair amount of games for Jeff Zatkoff to play for our team.”
The Penguins acknowledged losing Vokoun, possibly for the season, is going to be difficult to overcome.
“You start thinking more about hockey when something like this happens because he's a friend,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “You think about his family. I'm glad he's doing well now. But yeah, we're going to miss him.”
Vokoun, the Penguins agree, is a big part of their locker room. His presence off the ice will be missed also.
“I just hope he comes back soon,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “He's a good friend to everybody in this room.”