CORAL SPRINGS – When Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun found himself spending more time on the bench earlier this year than the ice, he didn’t complain.
He simply practiced and waited.
“Every year you go through stretches when you don’t do well,” said Vokoun after Wednesday’s practice at IncredibleIce. “You know, earlier in the year, Andy (Craig Anderson) deserved the time he was playing.”
But Vokoun, an All-Star who has registered 25 wins or more in five consecutive seasons, has proved the last few weeks that he is back and deserving of his time in goal.
Since coming in relief of Anderson Jan. 17 at Tampa, Vokoun is 2-1-1 with a .933 save percentage and 1.88 goals against average. He was a key in the Panthers holding on to beat Philadelphia 3-2 Tuesday evening.
Ironically, Vokoun’s numbers earlier this season when he seemed to be struggling a little were on par with last year’s numbers, when he was named to the All-Star Game.
Although he isn’t a “big numbers guys,” Panther coach Peter DeBoer said, he sees a more comfortable Vokoun in goal.
“For me it’s about his comfort level in net and making timely saves,” DeBoer said. “It’s not about how many goals you give up as when you’re giving them up and those types of things. I think Tomas looked real good (Tuesday). I told him coming off the break the Tampa game, when he went in after the first period, he was outstanding. He won that game for us. We were down 3-1 and he shut the door.
“You know, Tomas seems to getting into a rhythm.”
Vokoun, who was pulled several times during the first half by DeBoer, said the reason for positive and negative results “isn’t always black and white.” He also says getting pulled by DeBoer probably added to some people thinking he wasn’t having the kind of year ‘numbers wise’ he should have been.
“One thing is I’ve never been a flashy goaltender,” he says. “I never went from (.940) to (.880) or the other way around. Sometimes with me, it’s what you see is what you get. I’m not the kind of goalie who’s going to win by himself every game.”
And with DeBoer trying to shake things up in games earlier in the year by pulling he or Anderson, Vokoun admits it wasn’t always easy.
“It can be tough,” Vokoun said. “Tell a player if he makes a turnover he won’t be playing the next game. It will be tough for him to do anything. It’s definitely better when you know if you make a mistake you’ll still be playing.”
A lot of different factors can lead to goals, Vokoun and DeBoer agree.
“Sometimes it’s luck around the net,” DeBoer said. “We played Philly a few weeks back here and played a real good game, but I thought they got a couple bounces…one went in off a skate. Those things will happen.”
And that, Vokoun said, “is part of hockey.”
“You could have good stats after a game and we win, but you know you didn’t feel well or didn’t do something right,” Vokoun said. “But it could go the other way, too. Where you give up five goals but you have no chance on any of them.”
Vokoun credits the Panther defense for helping to turn the Panthers around this season. “That’s why we’re where we are, they’ve been strong all year offensively and defensively,” he said. “It’s no secret you win in this league playing defense.”
But the Panthers season will also be determined on how Vokoun plays these final 35 games. And the key for Vokoun?
“It’s just to feel good with the way I’m playing,” he said. “It’s easier when you play more, ask any player in sports. Ask any goalie. And it’s easier on your psychological approach when you don’t have to worry about giving up a bad goal and not playing for a week.”
Right now, Vokoun doesn’t have to worry about that.CANADIENS COMING TO TOWN, START AT 7 P.M.
The Panthers will try and take another huge two points Thursday evening at BankAtlantic Center when they take on the Canadiens, who come to South Florida on a three-game losing streak after getting beat Tuesday in Tampa.
The Panthers are 0-2-1 against Montreal this season.
The Panthers were feeling good at Wednesday’s practice after what DeBoer called a “huge two points” Tuesday against the Flyers.
“Any points are critical for us right now,” DeBoer said.
DeBoer reiterated the Panthers victory Tuesday wasn’t one “we’d put in the textbook on how to hold a lead, but we did enough little things well.”
Those includes some blocked shots in the final two minutes and some victories in the faceoff circle. The Panthers also got key goals from Michael Frolik, Bryan McCabe and David Booth, who scored his team-leading 20th goal.
“I think he’s shown he’s a legitimate scorer in the NHL, and he will be for a long time,” DeBoer said of Booth. As to whether Booth can be a 20-goal scorer consistently, DeBoer said; “I don’t think we’re talking 20s, it will be 30s and 40s.”
“He plays the type of game we want to play here,” DeBoer said. “That’s with energy and passion and speed.”