Tomas Vokoun's career in Washington began 1--3, tolerable numbers for Albert Pujols but not if your profession is stopping pucks. "Here's a guy who's been in Florida four years," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau says. "He's probably nervous [in his debut, against the Lightning on Oct. 10], and after the first shot goes in, then the [third], he's probably scared to death. But we get to overtime and he stops two four-on-threes and we win. Then he tells the press, I played terrible—my teammates saved me. And in the [dressing] room, guys are thinking the opposite: He let in a few, but in the end he saved us."
This is an article from the Oct. 31, 2011 issue
He continues to save. Owning the net because of opening-day starter Michal Neuvirth's foot injury, Vokoun, who beat Detroit 7--1 last Saturday, boasts a .944 save percentage for the NHL's only unbeaten team. Washington (7-0-0) has used four goalies in 37 playoff games since 2008 without ever getting beyond the second round. While high-end goaltending has not been the largest impediment to a postseason breakthrough, Vokoun, working on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, at least should give the club a security blanket in net next spring.
Here are four other newly acquired players who have made a significant impact in 2011--12:
SIMON GAGNÉ, Kings LW
Gagné, who has three goals and seven points, is blessed to be flanking center Anze Kopitar, but theirs is a symbiotic relationship. Gagné, coach Terry Murray says, "is a world-class player with obvious offensive skill, but he's really intelligent off the puck." Murray, an assistant with the Flyers when Gagné was paired with Peter Forsberg six years ago, thinks the winger and Kopitar can conjure similar magic in Los Angeles (5-1-1). The question is Gagné's health. He missed 19 games with Tampa Bay last year, roughly his postlockout average.
SHELDON SOURAY, Stars D
The motivated Souray has made the switch from Hershey, Pa., in the AHL to Dallas. (The Oilers, who bought out his contract in June, buried him in the minors last year for salary-cap reasons.) While no one doubted the 35-year-old Souray's heavy shot, some league executives believed he'd lost the ability to play at an NHL pace. Apparently not. Souray has five points and is +6 for the surprising Stars (6-2-0). "We haven't had a power-play presence from the blue line, and that cannon of his already has led to a few goals," says Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
BRAD RICHARDS, Rangers C
The prized free agent has five points in six games for New York (2-2-2). Not bad. Now look to his right. Winger Marian Gaborik, who had a disappointing 22 goals last season (after scoring 42 the year before), already has four goals, all on assists from Richards.
SEMYON VARLAMOV, Avalanche G
The bar was set low down the stretch last season by the slipshod work of the Peter Budaj--Brian Elliott tandem, and Varlamov (4-2-0, .929 save percentage), late of the Capitals, has vaulted over it with ease. He preserved a 1--0 win in Colorado's second game with a sensational sliding third-period save on the Bruins' Milan Lucic. The victory started a winning streak of five games.