Penguins veteran goaltender Vokoun all ready to resume skating
By Josh Yohe
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
It's the first of many steps for Tomas Vokoun. But it's a big one.
While coach Dan Bylsma cautioned that Vokoun hasn't been cleared to absorb shots and isn't close to a return to the lineup — Vokoun, in fact, acknowledged in November that he has contemplated retirement because of the condition — the 37-year-old clearly wants to return to the NHL at some point, perhaps as early as this season.
Vokoun, who also battled a blood clot in 2006, no longer requires blood thinners. The original prognosis called for Vokoun to miss between three and six months because of the injury. In September, he suggested that the three-month projection was “the absolute minimum.”
Bylsma, 15 hours removed from a blowout loss at home against Florida, was pleased to deliver some good news, even though his tone was cautious.
“It's really encouraging for Tomas,” Bylsma said. “It's been a long road. To be able to get on the ice with the possibility of being able to take some shots at some point after the doctor gives him the OK — it's just another step. It's just a step. Just a first step. He's got a long road ahead of him.”
Bylsma said that Vokoun has been off blood thinners for approximately one week. When his blood levels return to normal, the goaltender should be able to face shots in a practice setting.
“Tomas has been in Pittsburgh a couple of times as recently as last week,” Bylsma said. “He looks good. He feels good. He said he hasn't felt this good in a couple of years. Some aches and pains and ailments have gone away.”
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff has replaced Vokoun as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup and has performed well, producing a 7-2-1 record.
Vokoun's presence is something the Penguins would love to have in the postseason. He has won 300 career games and quickly became a leader in his first season with the Penguins.
Even before his stellar work in the postseason bailed the Penguins out against the New York Islanders and ultimately guided them to the Eastern Conference final, Vokoun had emerged as an important man.
His record during his first season with the Penguins was 13-4. Vokoun also became a vocal leader in what often is described as a quiet locker room.
Following a dismal opening period in Philadelphia last March, it was Vokoun who stood up and chastised his team with thoughtful but strong words.
His teammates listened, and many credited his speech with propelling them to a 15-game winning streak.
The presence of another NHL goaltender could also lighten Fleury's workload. He is on pace to play in 67 games this season, which would match the career-high he set during the 2011-12 season. Fleury imploded against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs in that season, and many in the Penguins organization believe the goaltender was exhausted, which is largely why Vokoun was acquired two months later.
Bylsma combined caution with quiet optimism Tuesday.
“Very much so,” Bylsma said when asked if he was cautious about Vokoun's return. “It's a step. There are a few more steps before you get close to any timetable (of a return).”
Vokoun will see a doctor following his skating session Wednesday morning. The Penguins have not ruled out that he could play again this season.
“Hopefully, he'll be able to move forward,” Bylsma said. “He was really excited about the possibility of getting the news, possibly getting on the ice, and possibly getting in the net in the future.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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