The Penguins are now 1-2-1 in the exhibition season, but that is hardly The Pressing Matter after a 5-3 loss to Columbus in the Free Kids Game at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.
Tomas Vokoun, the backup goalie that played like a playoff MVP candidate in the postseason, is out indefinitely after undergoing a procedure to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis.
Vokoun left a Saturday practice early with swelling in his thigh and was taken to the emergency room and the clot was diagnosed.
This was a scary situation to be sure – blood clots are potentially life threatening – and Vokoun is fortunate to have recognized something serious was wrong.
Of course, he knows something about the condition:
Josh Yohe is about to post a more detailed recap of this situation. Let’s use this space to establish what this means for the Penguins…
= Marc-Andre Fleury is on an island, if he wasn’t already feeling that way. Fleury, the appointed No. 1 goalie even though he was benched in the playoffs and ordered to seek counseling with a sports psychologist, is now the only proven NHL goalie on the Penguins’ roster.
Fleury allowed three goals on his first six shots Saturday, after allowing two on his first three at Columbus last Sunday. To be fair to Fleury – and Vokoun – the Penguins have iced split squads in four exhibition games, so there is no way to read if exhibition results are a sign of shakiness to come in the regular season.
(The guess here is that Fleury will be fine when the regular-season games start, but that is based on precedent.)
Still, general manager Ray Shero did not provide a ringing endorsement when pressed about Fleury’s progress in camp.
“He’s been OK, it’s been OK,” Shero said. “It’s a work in progress, I think. You see that with a number of our players.”
Fair enough; but a number of the Penguins are not facing the scrutiny of Fleury, who has recorded a sub-.900 save percentage in each of the last four playoffs.
There is every indication that this is a make-or-break season for Fleury, who will have one year remaining on his contract after this campaign. If he falters again – especially in the playoffs – the Penguins would lean toward moving on from the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
However, Fleury has won more regular-season games than any NHL goalie over the last four years, and the Penguins fully anticipate him regaining that form.
The thing now is that he has no proven buffer, helper, whatever. Vokoun, the rare NHL backup with 300 wins and 50 shutouts, was to be that insurance policy, and teammates clearly felt comfortable with him in that role – and in a greater role, as the last postseason proved.
The No. 2 goalie as of now is Jeff Zatkoff, a veteran of five AHL seasons but without an NHL game on his resume.
The Penguins did well last season to finish seventh overall in goals against. Part of that was because of a different approach with the defensemen, as designed by assistant coach Todd Reirden.
Reirden might have to be even better this season, and so might Fleury need be better than his usual regular-season form.
There is no room for error – and what happens if Fleury struggles or is injured?
= The Vokoun injury left a somber feeling in the dressing room, as he is among the most respected players – perhaps the most respected player – on the team. He also emerged as a vocal authority and calming presence in the dressing room.
There is no way to gauge how much he will be missed on or off the ice, but any lengthy absence suddenly makes the Metropolitan Division seem a lot more competitive.
= Vokoun would need to miss 10 regular-season games for the Penguins to have the option of designating him for the long-term injury list (LTI). A player’s salary-cap hit – Vokoun is at $2 million – does not count when on LTI, but a club must be compliant with the cap the day he returns.
Shero said Saturday he did not anticipate Vokoun’s injury having any impact on decisions made to set the final roster by Sept. 30.
Be Excellent to each other,