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The Confluence

Vokoun On Road Back To Support Fleury If (When?) Needed

The Penguins provided some promising and somewhat surprising news recently when they announced that veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun was not only taken off blood thinners, but had started to face shots in practice.

Many of us might have thought that highly unlikely given the prognosis of Vokoun's pelvic blood clot that occurred in September.  Blood clots are nothing to sneeze at, they are a potentially fatal situation.

But he's on his way back.  Will he be officially cleared by the doctors and had enough rehab games in the AHL before the regular season ends in mid-April?

Or perhaps the better question is would it honestly benefit Marc-Andre Fleury if he indeed comes back?

As we all remember, Vokoun was there to save Fleury's buttocks last postseason, becoming the starting goalie in Game 5 of the series against the Islanders.  He won 6 of his first 7 playoff starts, although it must also be noted that Vokoun was on the losing end of all 4 games in the Pens' sweep at the hands of the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So coming into this season, the conventional "wisdom" was that Vokoun would be there to provide the veteran leadership and support to Fleury.  And most importantly, in the Penguins' eyes, his presence would provide motivation for Fleury to stay focused.

Was that theory flawed?  Impossible to really say at this point.  Without Vokoun backing him up, Fleury has once again had another very solid regular season.  Leads the league with 29 wins, a 29-13-1 record, 2.28 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

Not only has Vokoun not been there, but there hasn't been a veteran backup at all for Fleury.  Pens' GM Ray Shero chose not to obtain another veteran backup.  Rookie Jeff Zatkoff has filled in, and done so admirably, going 9-2-1 with a respectable 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage.  In addition, Zatkoff has played not only against lesser teams, as you would expect for the backup goalie, but has played well against playoff contenders such as the Islanders, Wings, Leafs and Kings.

It would seem logical that if Vokoun gets medically cleared to resume playing and gets sufficient games under his belt in the AHL before getting called up, he would slide right back into the backup role.  Kinda sucks for Zatkoff, but let's also remember that the Penguins must have their backup goalie ready to step in if Fleury yet again falters in the playoffs.  And as well as Zatkoff has played thus far in the regular season, the playoffs are a different animal.  I don't see the Pens wanting to head into the playoffs with a rookie backup.

This is a huge season for Fleury, with only one year remaining at a $5 million cap hit.  There are now 12 goalies that make more money annually than Fleury.  It remains to be seen if Penguins' management will give Fleury a new contract, with no doubt a significant raise, if he has yet another poor playoff performance.

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About The Confluence

Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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