With Tomas Vokoun out for most of, if not the entire season, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned to 26-year-old rookie Jeff Zatkoff to be the team’s backup. Zatkoff enjoyed a great season as the Penguins’ minor league affiliates starting goaltender, posting a GAA of 1.93 and saving .920% of the shots he faced.
Good numbers in the minors, but the biggest question was whether or not the success would translate at the NHL level? After a discouraging first start, Zatkoff has yet to get another chance in net. His start against the Florida Panthers was the first game of a back-to-back set of games, and if the Penguins keep that current trend, Zatkoff won’t get another look until next weekend when the Pens play the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs on consecutive nights.
While one game isn’t enough to freak out about, there were some telling signs that should maybe make the Penguins look to the future. Bad angles and the lack of aggressiveness needed to play in the NHL are two factors. However, it is not too surprising to find these problems with a player in his first NHL game.
If Zatkoff continues to falter, what should the Pens do? They have unbelievable depth at defense, and could swap a mid-level prospect for a backup goalie, or reach out and sign a free agent, such as Mathieu Garon (former Penguin in the KHL)
The Penguins have a player currently in the minors that could serve as the backup and wouldn’t cost more than the minimum salary. When the Penguins signed Jeff Deslauriers to a professional try-out (PTO) contract, many wondered what that meant, as at the time they were set to have Eric Hartzell, Zatkoff, and Peter Mannino at the AHL level. Once Vokoun was ruled out it made sense that the Penguins were going to see if the former second round pick had enough in him to maybe become that backup.
Under a PTO, a player can play up to 25-games, and can sign up to two PTO’s in the same season. By the time Wilkes-Barre hits the 25-game mark, the big league club will have an idea on whether or not they want to keep Zatkoff as the backup.
Deslauriers broke into the league with the Edmonton Oilers, and has played 62 games at the NHL level, and is well traveled at every other level, playing in 193-AHL contests, 32 in the ECHL and 149 in the QMJHL. His numbers have never screamed starter, nor even as loud as NHL backup, with his best save percentage mark at any level as .920, in the ECHL.
Don’t expect the Penguins to rush the decision, because either way you go, it doesn’t look good for the Penguins as far as backup options, unless they go external. But when it comes to your backup goalie, I would rather have someone who is experienced at the craft, making Deslauriers an intriguing option.
Getting every opportunity thus far this season, Deslauriers has played in every game for Wilkes-Barre this season and has posted decent numbers. In four games, Deslauriers is a perfect 4-0 with 2.25 GAA and a .907 save %.
If Deslauriers gets that shot, it will only help the team’s depth at a position they didn’t think they would have to test this season, but if one could break through, could still be a strength.
Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.