Five days ago, after the Washington Capitals final pre-season game with the Chicago Black Hawks, coach Bruce Boudreau described his goalie situation thusly:
“Tomas [Vokoun] is number one, but we’ve got a number one-A. Training camp, you’ve got guys that come in that deserve the respect to be where they were and Tomas has earned that. Michal’s [Neuvirth] been very good…Michal’s going to play a lot of hockey this year but I don’t think you look at that.
“It’d be like saying, okay, Jason Chimera played better than Alex Ovechkin in the preseason. Does that mean Jason Chimera is now the number one left wing over Alex Ovechkin? I don’t think that’s a fair question.”
Whether it was a fair question or not, today, in a mild bombshell at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Tomas Vokoun surprised everyone by announcing that he would not be in net for the Caps’ season opener against the Carolina Panthers Saturday night. When asked if he was nervous starting the season for a team with lofty expectations, he told the press, “No, I’m not really nervous because I’m not playing,” Vokoun said. “Whatever, you know. Supposedly I’m going to play the next game.”
Several minutes later, during his normal media availability, Boudreau was as surprised by the question as those that heard the news a few minutes earlier.
“I didn’t know that was public knowledge,” Boudreau said. “Well, I’m not ready to comment on that.”
Neuvirth served this team well last season, carrying the Caps on occasions as the team struggled to find an identity while transitioning from Boudreau’s favored all-out forecheck and attack to a more defensively-responsible system, including elements of the neutral zone trap he so despises.
But Vokoun has been heralded since his signed June 2 as the answer the Caps have been looking for in net for oh so many years. He’s been one of the top goalies in the league while playing for second division teams. He signed in D.C. on a reduced-salary, one-year deal with the specific purpose of leading this team to a deep playoff run. Now, he’ll watch from the bench Saturday night as Neuvirth will lead his team onto the ice at Verizon Center.
It’s a great reward for Neuvirth, who had a stellar pre-season as well. But whether it’s symbolic or not, teams should put their best players on the ice for opening night. Neuvirth is immensely talented and this team relied heavily upon the youngster last season. He won the battle over the now-departed Semyon Varlamov with his calm demeanor and superior game-management. He, along with Braden Holtby, is the future in net for the Washington Capitals.
But this is today, and Tomas Vokoun is this team’s best goaltender. The head coach proclaimed as much just five days ago. Wonder what changed his mind?
***Some quotes taken from previously published sources.