It would have been hard to expect at the start of the season, or at any point in recent months, that the Washington Capitals’ goaltending tandem heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs would be Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.
Tomas Vokoun (groin) and Michal Neuvirth (lower body) are around the team, and were both on the ice Tuesday, but neither goaltender seems close to being available. General manager George McPhee said Monday Neuvirth is probably closer, though both goaltenders lacked any kind of time line or definitive prognosis, even while expressing optimism that things are getting better.
“I’m working hard to get healthy and at least be able to play. That’s a start for me and after that we’ll see,” said Vokoun, who skated 20 minutes on his own. “It doesn’t even mean I’m going to be able to get healthy to play. But it’s progressing. I felt way better than I felt 10 days ago. It’s all going to depend on how long our season going to be and all the other stuff. I don’t have a lot of answers.”
Vokoun suffered this groin injury, the first of his career, in late February and aggravated it twice, March 16 and March 29. Knowing that he made it worse by coming back too early, the 35-year-old said now he’ll wait until he feels even better than last time.
“I’m just trying to get it a hundred percent so when I do play I don’t have to worry about re-injuring it again,” Vokoun said. “Obviously, it’s in a bad situation, but I find out kind of the hard way. You can hurt something like that. I never had an injury like that before. I think I mismanage it a little bit from my point of view.”
Vokoun is only on a one-year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent again July 1. Unable to cash in on a big contract last summer before agreeing to take $1.5 million from the Caps, it’s a balancing act now between trying to prove he can be healthy and not look like damaged goods on the open market.
What makes things harder is not knowing how to handle this injury from previous experience.
“There’s a really thin line. It’s hard for me to judge something I’ve never been through. I’ve played with injuries before and some of them are manageable to just be able to play with them,” said Vokoun, who played with a cracked bone in his foot before. “When you play the game, you go full out and you’re trying to save the puck no matter what when you do those kind of things. It’s totally unprotected, so if there’s any issue at all, I don’t think it’s going to be able to hold if it’s still injured or if it’s getting better and it’s still not good enough.”
Neuvirth was far less extensive in commenting about his injury, which the team is calling lower-body. The 24-year-old suffered a lower-body injury April 5 when Florida Panthers forward Marco Sturm fell on top of him.
“That’s hockey. It’s a tough sport to play and you’ve got to, obviously, I don’t think he was trying to hurt me or anything like that,” Neuvirth said. “It was just bad luck and ended up getting me hurt. It is what it is, I’m trying to get back.”
He skated during Caps practice Tuesday but did not stay out on the ice the whole time. It was clear Neuvirth wasn’t pain-free.
“You’ve got to go through the pain sometimes, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Asked if he thought he could be ready at some point during the Bruins series, Neuvirth was not too confident “I think so. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer.”