When 37-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun was rushed to an area hospital 10 days ago because of severe blood clotting in his pelvis, it was natural to fear the worst.
However, thanks to a quick surgical procedure and copious amounts of blood thinners, a potentially life-threatening condition was alleviated. Vokoun was seen wondering around the Penguins dressing room at Consol Energy Center over the weekend, inspiring hope that he might return to game action at some point in the next several weeks.
That brand of optimism was blunted Wednesday morning, as Penguins general manager Ray Shero announced that Vokoun will miss three to six months for precautionary reasons. Shero added that doctors will reevaluate Vokoun’s condition after three months and the Czech veteran can take part in light exercise in the meantime.
“I’m not thinking about my career or hockey,” Vokoun told the assembled media. “I’m worried about my long-term health.”
With regards to the Penguins’ goaltending depth, Shero asserted that Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup – at least for the next few weeks – will be 26-year-old NHL rookie Jeff Zatkoff. The former Los Angeles Kings draft pick had a .920 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average last season with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but has never played a regular-season game at the highest level.
This situation puts the onus on Fleury to prove he’s past last spring’s playoffs, when he was benched for Vokoun during the Penguins’ first-round series against the Islanders. Vokoun went on to post terrific numbers over the next two rounds, before the Bruins’ stifling defense stopped Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final.
There is no “safety net” now for Fleury, at least for the time being. Zatkoff may be talented, but the Penguins’ goaltending situation is suddenly much more precarious than management would like.