TORONTO – Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun can only hope hitting a new statistical benchmark will help earn him more starts for the Panthers.
Vokoun posted his 200th career win in a 4-2 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, but there hasn’t been a lot of reason to celebrate for the 32-year-old Czech goalie this season.
His second year in Florida has featured more lows than highs. The man brought in two summers ago to help Panther fans forget about Roberto Luongo has watched backup Craig Anderson gain a big share of the playing time on the strength of a .933 save percentage that was tied for tops in the league heading into Tuesday’s NHL action.
Anderson has a 9-4-5 record compared to Vokoun’s 9-12-1 mark.
“Craig has been playing great,” said Vokoun, who entered Tuesday’s game with a respectable .916 save percentage but is also sporting an unspectacular 2.83 goals-against average. “This is a team sport. I struggled at the start of the year … sometimes things go that way.”
The fact Vokoun won just four of his first 14 decisions opened the door for Anderson, a career backup. When the play of Anderson, 27, helped Florida rack up some victories, Vokoun lost his starting job and spent most of December on the bench.
The veteran seemed to re-assert himself with two shutouts just before Christmas, but got pulled in two of his last three starts leading up to the win over Toronto.
Vokoun, who became a very reliable starter over his seven years with the Nashville Predators, would love to play more, but fully acknowledges he is in a results-based profession”.
“I know I have to be better,” said Vokoun, who evened his career record at 200-200-35 with the victory over Toronto. “Saying that, it’s always tougher to be expected to always do a good job (and have) that added pressure. But that comes with the job.”
Florida coach Peter DeBoer said there’s no established goalie hierarchy or exact formula that determines which netminder gets the call – DeBoer simply follows his gut.
“I’ve been going with who’s ever got the hot hand based on a feel,” said the rookie coach. “If I feel someone is playing better than somebody else or the team is playing better in front of somebody else … there’s been no real rhyme or reason to it. It hasn’t been ‘win and you stay in’ or anything like that. It’s been my feel on how they’re playing and how the team is playing in front of them.
“That’s not always easy to take for goaltenders, but they’ve handled it well.”
DeBoer sensed his team was trying to help Vokoun get back on track against Toronto.
“I think there was a real team effort to play better defensively in front of Tomas, there’s no doubt,” he said. “He’s been pulled (in two of his last three starts). We know he’s a good goalie, he’s one of the hardest working guys in the league and the guys wanted to put a good defensive effort in front of him tonight.”