Updated 3:24 p.m.
Tomas Vokoun is the first to admit that if he had playedbetter in November Bruce Boudreau might still be coaching the Capitals.But the 35-year-old goaltender is also a realist and he believesthe Caps desperately needed to change the way they were playing if they hopedto be swinging sticks instead of golf clubs in May and June.
Ill be the first one to say that I didnt play up to mycapabilities, for various reasons, and Ive got to be better, too, said Vokoun,who watch Michal Neuvirth start Monday night against his former team when theCaps visit the Florida Panthers.Under Dale Hunter, the Capitals have allowed just six goalsin three games, but Vokoun said the real difference is the number of odd-manrushes the Caps have allowed since Hunter installed a more disciplined 1-2-2forechecking system.
Unfortunately, its a really hard way to play, but its theonly way you can win a Stanley Cup. And the sooner we learn it as a team thebetter off were going to be.
After reeling off seven straight wins to start the season,the Capitals allowed three or more goals in 12 of their next 15 games underBoudreau. Vokoun, who has lost his last three starts, said the defensive breakdownswere the result of a team that changed its style from game to game and periodto period.
One week were scoring seven goals and the next week were givingup five, he said. We may have won, butsome nights there were breakaways and 2-on-1s. Sometimes we pinched (in theoffensive zone) sometimes we didnt.Vokoun said hes not concerned about the Capitals dip inscoring under Hunter. In his three games behind the bench theyve found theback of the net just four times in regulation. To Vokoun, it is more aboutestablishing an identity as a team that will be positionally sound every night,whether they are facing the Panthers or the Penguins.
I think its about setting the rules on how were going toplay, no matter where we are in the standings or what the score is or who wereplaying against, he said. That will make it more simple for us. Once we getinto the groove of playing the system our scoring will come.Im not worried about (the offense), honestly. If we playthe system he wants us to play were going to be successful because we have atalented group of guys. But were going to have a lot of 3-2 games.
That was certainly the case when Vokoun played in Florida, a team that scoredjust 195 goals last season, fourth fewest in the NHL. In his final two seasons withthe Panthers Vokouns numbers were almost identical.In 2009-10, he went 23-28-11 with a 2.55 GAA and .925 savepercentage. Last season he went 22-28-5 with a 2.55 GAA and .922 save percentage
In his first two months as a Capital, Vokoun is 10-7-0 witha 2.72 GAA and .909 save percentage. Hes hoping to turns things around againsta team that under first-year coach KevinDineen has gone 14-8-4 and leads the Southeast Division with 32 points, fivemore than the Caps. Vokoun recorded his only shutout of the season against thePanthers, a 3-0 win back on Oct. 18.
Vokoun acknowledged that playing tight, defensive hockeyrequires timely saves by a goaltender and in each of his last two starts he wasunable to shut the door when the Caps most needed him. Hes also well awarethat the Capitals scored just one goal in each of those two losses.Thats one thing Im used to, Vokoun said. Were in a rough (offensive)stretch right now, but I still feel theres greatness on this team and I dontsense panic in our locker room.
I think the change in system is going to be really beneficialdown the road for us. Maybe were not going to be perfect and well lose somegames, but I think the change is for the better. Were a lot more predictable.Giving up rebounds has been a sore spot for Vokoun for muchof his career and that proved to be the case in each of his last two starts. In a 2-1 loss to the Blues in Hunters NHL coaching debut Vokounhad trouble controlling a rebound that led to a goal. And in Thursday nights2-1 loss to the Penguins he allowed a shot by Chris Kuntiz squeak under thecrook of his arm.He said its one of the reasons he has asked the Capitalsdefensemen to allow him to see shots as much as possible.You want to make sure you stop the puck first, he said. Youdont want to give up rebounds, but on the other hand its not as simple and itlooks. If it hits you in the stomach its easy to keep the rebound. If it hitsyou in the shoulder sometimes you keep it and sometimes you dont. And when ithits the pads sometimes you dont know where its going to go.The key, Vokoun said, is fighting through the traffic hesgoing to see every night.Im just trying to work on getting that good feeling backfrom a couple weeks ago and get some momentum going, he said. Everything elsewill come.
Updated 3:24 p.m.