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Vokoun earns early nod as Washington's No. 1

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Michal Neuvirth played every minute for the Washington Capitals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but coach Bruce Boudreau said new addition Tomas Vokoun will likely enter training camp as the nominal "No. 1 goaltender."

The Capitals signed the 35-year-old Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million contract July 2 -- one day after trading Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a first- and second-round pick.

"We're always going to play who we think is the best, but if you're looking at a guy that has experience and everything and has been a No. 1 goalie, you have to give Vokoun the respect that he's coming in and going to be the No. 1 guy," Boudreau said Monday, the first day of Washington's development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "We'll see where it goes from there."

Vokoun has appeared in at least 57 games in seven of the past eight seasons and been one of the most durable players at his position. He's also had at least a .919 save percentage for six consecutive seasons.

The Capitals were able to sign him at a discount rate because the market went dry in a hurry July 1, but he has been a top guy at his position despite playing on underperforming teams for years.

"The kids that we have here are very talented, but there is something to be said for mentorship. Having a guy like Tomas around with his experience and he's a fantastic goalie," new assistant goaltender coach Olie Kolzig said. "He hasn't had a whole lot of playoff experience, but in the international game he's represented the Czech Republic very well. He's a guy that can play in pressure situation, and being a Czech nationalist, he's got to be somewhat of a hero to Michal. I think that relationship is going to be great."

Neuvirth played in 48 games for the Capitals during the regular season in 2010-11, and all nine in the playoffs. While Varlamov was more injury-prone during his time with Washington, Neuvirth has had his own durability issues.

He was going to have fend off classmate Varlamov to keep his status as the No. 1 guy. After the trade it might have made Neuvirth a bigger favorite to start on opening night, but Braden Holtby is also an elite prospect and was likely to push him during training camp.

Now Holtby will likely start the season with Hershey in the American Hockey League and Neuvirth will have to be sharp (and stay healthy) to compete with Vokoun. Even if both goaltenders do stay healthy, Boudreau is likely to find plenty of playing time for Neuvirth.

"He's a top, elite goalie in the NHL and now I think we've got two really good goalies," Boudreau said. "Even though we had all the faith in the world in Braden and Michal, it gives Braden a chance to play a little more before he gets thrown in the fire."
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