News of some significance came out of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ practice before the team jettisoned for Los Angeles: Tomas Vokoun, the backup goaltender who has been battling a blood clot in his hip since before training camp, was not only back on the ice, but taking shots after practice.
Reports of Vokoun skating had been released in previous weeks, but anyone that follows hockey knows that isn’t saying much; however, the fact that the goaltender got between the pipes and was taking shots from healthy shooters was significant. Does this paint the picture that Vokoun is progressing to the point where his return is imminent?
That might be a bit premature considering the severity of the blood clot Vokoun was dealing with, but if he is healthy enough to rejoin the Penguins, should the club immediately insert him back into the backup role behind Marc-Andre Fleury and send Jeff Zatkoff back to Scranton with the Baby Penguins? Obviously, Vokoun would go through the steps of games in the minors before re-entering the NHL, but what should the Penguins do when he is ready?
I’ve written before that I feel one of the main reasons for Fleury’s success this season was not having the pressure of Vokoun waiting in the wings. Being benched in the playoffs last season and watching Vokoun narrowly take the club to the Stanley Cup Finals has to remain in Fleury’s mind. Everyone knows that Zatkoff is not going to threaten Fleury in terms of playing time, but a healthy Vokoun certainly will. We know this because it happened last season.
Granted, this is merely speculation as Vokoun is still going through the process of getting back to health, but considering that there was a question of whether he would ever play the game again, this is a step in the right direction.
As backwards as it might seem, if Vokoun is healthy enough to play, the Penguins would be foolish not to have him backing up Fleury. Fleury’s history has shown that as solid as he may be in the regular season, he is as fragile as they come in the postseason. Thats not to say he will fold in the postseason again, but they want a reliable veteran to back him up if he does. That is where Vokoun becomes a valuable piece of the puzzle.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma will stick behind Fleury no matter the situation, but having Vokoun available will only help ease his, and the fans’ minds when the playoffs start to approach. Vokoun’s return might throw a wrench in the Penguins’ plans that started in October, but regardless of what anyone might think, he would be a welcome addition to a club that is still striving for that fourth Stanley Cup Championship.