The Pittsburgh Penguins’ dressing room was unusually tense following Saturday’s preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Consol Energy Center.
But the palpable concern wasn’t regarding the 5-3 exhibition loss; rather, it surrounded the news that goalie Tomas Vokoun had been rushed to an area hospital prior to the game with a blood clot in his pelvis.
Vokoun’s potentially life-threatening condition was quickly alleviated Saturday, but the Penguins won’t be seeing No. 92 in uniform for an indefinite amount of time. The 37-year-old has had issues with blood clots in the past, most notably at the end of the 2005-06 season, so doctors have advised him to take some time off from strenuous activity.
It feels almost insensitive to address, but Vokoun’s scary situation has left the Penguins goaltending depth quite shallow. Nominal No. 1 netminder Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t had the best preseason so far – allowing six goals on 35 shots in limited action – while AHL veteran Jeff Zatkoff is now the default backup.
With the Penguins already nearly $2 million over the salary cap with 10 days to go before opening night, the possibility for finding an external goaltending option is slim. Vokoun proved last year that he can be relied upon to step into the crease at a moment’s notice, but the Penguins suddenly find themselves without a safety net should Fleury falter in the coming weeks.
Fortunately, the Pens and Fleury have 82 games to round into form for what should be another promising playoff run. Perhaps general manager Ray Shero can evaluate his team’s goalie needs over the course of October and (slightly) beyond.
But even factoring in some wiggle room, Vokoun’s indefinite absence has significantly weakened the most important position on the ice for the Penguins. If Fleury can’t at least deliver league-average netminding, Pittsburgh could be playing catch-up in the new Metropolitan Division.