December 14, 2011
With 3 minutes and 44 seconds left in the first period on Tuesday night, Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle to the right of Washington Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun. It hit the inside of the goalie's pads, and trickled in behind him, slowly and painfully for the home fans.
The goal sapped the crowd's energy, as much as it did the Capitals'. Vokoun would allow three more goals before he was lifted in the third period. It was the sixth time in 21 starts he had allowed four or more goals. It was the sixth time in his last nine starts he had allowed three or more goals, losing five of nine.
"It was terrible performance," Vokoun said after the game, via Capitals Insider. "Certainly not pleasant and it's unfortunate in a game like that there's not really much to say. It was a bad performance by me."
Both the Capitals and the Lightning were in the postseason last spring. Both of them are out the playoff picture in mid-December. Their goaltending is a primary reason why; so what's the fix?
Roloson signed a 1-year, $3 million deal with the Bolts last summer, entering the season as their primary goalie at 42 years old. He's 6-8-1 with a 3.67 GAA and a save percentage of .882. He's lost five straight games, and serious questions about the Bolts' goaltending are being asked.
Backup Mathieu Garon has played more games and speculation is general manager Steve Yzerman is looking for an upgrade. One also has to believe Dustin Tokarksi, 9-5-0 with a 1.94 GAA, two shutouts and a .918 save percentage in his past 14 starts for AHL Norfolk, might get at least a brief look with Tampa Bay.
"In regards to Roli, he's having a tough time," Yzerman said. "He's working at it. He's trying to get back into form. If he sticks with it he can get back on track. In the meantime, myself and the coach, we need to do anything we can to help our team win games, so it's a tough spot for him."
The hope is that Roloson can work through this before a move needs to be made; that means copious amounts of tape with video coach Frantz Jean, according to the Tampa Tribune:
"Most of the time, when you get into a stretch of games where one goaltender is struggling, we are always trying to find the answer and a lot of times there is not one,'' Jean said. "A lot of times it's just a question of keeping working, coming to the rink with a positive attitude and leaving the bag of bricks at the door.
"At some point, things start to turn around. When you are struggling, when you are having a few bad games, it seems every shot is tougher and a little more difficult. But at one point you get that one period or that one game where you start to feel a little more comfortable and you get somewhat of an easier game and then things start shifting the other way.''
Both Tampa and Washington are struggling teams. Strong goaltending is a foundation for a reversal of fortune. But it's hard to dig out of a hole when your last line of defense keeps digging deeper.
The Lightning are second-to-last in the League in goals allowed in the first period with 32 in 30 games; the Capitals are fourth-to-last with 29 in 29 games. The Lightning are 3-6-1 when trailing after the first period; the Capitals are 5-7-0.
Vokoun's numbers aren't as bad as Roloson's thanks to a hot start. He's got a 2.81 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
But too often he's been a liability; and Michal Neuvirth, whose job he was given, has the highest GAA in the NHL at the moment at 3.73 and the worst save percentage at .875.
Ultimately (and it's a bit of an over-simplification), the difference between a decent goalie and a good one is nothing more than the frequency with which they give up bad goals. And with another couple of questionable goals allowed against the Flyers (Philly's first, which looked to be deflected a bit by Wideman's stick... but still, and their fourth), Tomas Vokoun has looked much more like a decent goalie than a good one so far this season.
He doesn't have to stand on his head to give the Caps a chance to win on most nights, but he's gotta make the saves he's gotta make - those softies are killers. Vokoun only lasted 40 minutes, and you'd imagine he'll get a baseball cap on Thursday.
Much like the Lightning could be mulling Tokarksi, the Capitals could be mulling Braden Holtby down in Hershey. His numbers are great in the AHL this season, but the case could still be made that he'd be an upgrade over the current tandem.
The trade route is always open, though one wonders what's out there to snag. An older, ineffective Evgeni Nabokov? Chris Mason? Vancouver and Minnesota aren't eager to break up their tandems. There aren't very many upgrades around.
The Lightning and Capitals face numerous problems this season, but goaltending is where the solutions start. It's failed them up to this point, which is why they're on the outside looking in at the East playoff picture.