While the Olympic men’s hockey tournament whittled down to its final four teams Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins not in Russia returned to Consol Energy Center for their first practice in more than a week.
The biggest development from the workout session was the presence of goalie Tomas Vokoun in the crease. The 37-year-old joined fellow netminders Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff in absorbing shots from their Penguins teammates, a first for Vokoun since he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his pelvis last September.
Vokoun is still under contract with Pittsburgh for the remainder of the season, but he had previously indicated that he would take his time in deciding whether to retire because of his condition. The Czech Republic native suffered through a similar ordeal about a decade ago while with the Nashville Predators.
However, Vokoun sounded much more optimistic Wednesday afternoon, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Shelly Anderson that he will try to return to game action this season. Vokoun also said he’s been medically cleared to participate fully in practices after gradually increasing his exertion levels over the past few weeks.
While Vokoun maintains he doesn’t want to be a “burden” to the Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference with a 40-15-3 record at the Olympic break, his steadying presence would always certainly be welcomed. A 15-year NHL veteran, Vokoun proved he could still tend goal at a high level last spring, when he stepped in for a struggling Fleury and helped Pittsburgh reach the conference final for the first time since 2009.
The rookie Zatkoff has manned the team’s backup goalie spot admirably this season, but the Penguins would have one less thing to worry about this spring if Vokoun can get back into playing shape. Pittsburgh begins its 24-game sprint to the postseason Feb. 27 against Montreal.