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Tomas Vokoun’s Return Will Revitalize Struggling Defense

January 21st, 2014 at 5:51 PM
By Shane Darrow

[Photo Credit: NHL.com]

Perhaps the scariest injury this season in the NHL was when doctors discovered Pittsburgh Penguins backup goalie Tomas Vokoun had blood clots in his leg last September. Multiple sources reported that Vokoun almost died from the clots, and at 37 years old, it was in the air whether or not he would ever play again. 

Vokoun was diagnosed with pelvic thrombophlebitis in 2007, so having to deal with blood cuts again six years later made his future look bleak. 

But Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that Vokoun will begin skating at Wednesday's practice and has been off blood thinners for a week. 

The Penguins may have a 13-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, but so far in 2014 their defensive efforts have been average at best. It's been no secret that injuries have been detrimental to the team's blue line, but even when five of the Penguins top six defensemen were sidelined, they continued to play a solid team game defensively. 

When the Penguins top two defensemen in Kris Letang and Paul Martin returned, one would think the defense would only get better, but that just didn't happen. Martin only has one game under his belt since returning from injury – a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers – and he didn't look like an Olympic caliber defenseman. Now, some may say that it's unfair to not give him a couple games to get back into his groove, but any defenseman playing at least 20 minutes per game can't afford to take the time to knock off the rust. Martin is a game changer when he plays well, but can really hurt the Penguins when he is off his game. Take the way he played in the playoffs two seasons ago as the best example of what happens when Martin isn't playing solid hockey

Letang has played six games since returning from an injury he sustained in mid-December, and while he hasn't been terrible, he hasn't been great either. He has contributed on the power play, but has looked sloppy during 5-on-5 play. The Penguins as a team are currently ranked 20th in the NHL when it comes to goals against during 5-on-5 action. 

In the six games since Letang's return, the Penguins have allowed 22 goals against. 

After watching the Penguins get blown out at home to a below-average Panthers team, it was evident they were lacking motivation. The Penguins have managed to win games due to their offensive capabilities, and any team would love to be 5-1-1 in 2014, but they have looked far from the team that defied the odds by continuing to win with so many call-ups getting their chance to shine in the NHL.

The skill may be back in the line up, but the fire is not. Something that comes with AHL players being called up is they know it's an opportunity that could soon be gone. They may only get one shot before getting sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and that fear makes playing against a team of motivated call-ups dangerous. 

Somehow, the Penguins have to find a way to regain the fire. Having a veteran like Tomas Vokoun back in the locker room is something that could rekindle that flame. While the team defied the odds by continuing to win through a laundry list of injuries, Vokoun has defied the odds by returning from what could have been a deadly injury. 

The timetable for Vokoun's return is still some time away, but just having the 37-year-old veteran in the locker room is something that will surely inspire the defensemen who play in front of him. 

 

Tags: Hockey, NHL, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Vokoun

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