After playing parts of four seasons in the American Hockey League and parts of one in the East Coast Hockey League, Jeff Zatkoff made his NHL debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night against the Florida Panthers.
His debut was more than certainly not what the Penguins, or Zatkoff wanted to have against a Panthers team that had scored seven goals combined in their first four games. Florida would almost match that amount on Zatkoff, as they tagged the rookie goalie for six goals on 30 shots on net.
Although Zatkoff struggled mightily, the defense that rallied together around Marc-Andre Fleury and only allowed three goals in the team’s first three games fell apart in front of the rookie who needed all the help he could get.
The defense had some moments, but in large part the game was filled with a lot of those ‘uh-oh’ moments that plagued the team late last year and in the playoffs. Players were weak on the puck, as shown in the Tomas Fleischmann goal when Brooks Orpik was unable to cancel out Fleischmann who corralled his own rebound.
There was bad positioning, players losing physical battles behind the net that they have no business losing, and two instances of players leaving their feet and canceling themselves out of the play.
This doesn’t excuse Zatkoff. General Manager Ray Shero decided not to make a move for another goalie when Tomas Vokoun went down, showing faith in the 26-year old goalie, and as Fleury’s backup he is going to have to deliver. The last thing the Penguins need is to wear out Fleury during the season due to bad backup play and have their franchise goalie a shell of himself come playoff time.
Zatkoff was clearly uncomfortable in the net. On the first goal he was caught in the middle positioning wise, not coming far enough out to cut down the angle on the shot. A hard save no matter his positioning, he would have had a better shot outside the crease.
That can be fixed with re-watching his performance, but unfortunately one thing that has the potential not to cure itself was the rebounding. Zatkoff struggled to control his rebounds, leading to the Fleischmann back-breaking goal.
This was the worst game the Pens played so far this season, and unfortunately for Zatkoff, it was his first start so most fingers will be pointed at him. While he had his struggles, the defense failed to give him the breaks that a goalie needs in his first career game.
Just ask Brad Boyes, who the defense allowed to hang out back door with no coverage because both defenders were stuck out of the play on the opposite side of the ice. Hey, at least it wasn’t Paul Martin streaking in from behind, making you wonder where he went.