After getting three days off, the Pittsburgh Penguins will play their second set of back-to-back games against the New York Islanders (Friday night) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Saturday), as well as three games in a four-day span (Carolina Hurricanes Monday night).
With the busy workload, it should be all but a certainty that backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff will get his second NHL start somewhere in there, although it is not known which. Zatkoff did not impress in his initial start of the season, allowing six goals on 30 shots in the Penguins’ first loss of the season, a 6-3 defeat by the hands of the Florida Panthers.
Out of position at times and unsure of himself, you can tell he was a goaltender making his first NHL start, leaving some to wonder if the Penguins made a mistake not looking for another goaltending option when it was learned that Tomas Vokoun would miss most of the season after having a blood clot removed.
Jeff Deslauriers was signed to a tryout contract in the AHL, but his declining play makes him, if only, a slight improvement over Zatkoff.
The reason behind the Penguins getting Vokoun in the first place was to lighten the load behind on Marc-Andre Fleury, resting him up in hopes that he would be fresher in the postseason and not flop like he has in every playoff appearance since they won the cup in 2009.
Vokoun saw his playing time to rest Fleury, but they did not get the results in the playoffs once again, seeing Fleury benched for Vokoun at one point.
The Penguins have gone with a heavy Fleury workload thus far this season, and with his record currently sitting at 7-1, it’s hard to argue against him playing. But if you look at the years where Fleury played the most, those are the season’s he posted two of his worst postseason save percentages, so the theory on resting Fleury holds ground.
Even if Zatkoff plays Friday night against the Islanders, that will be two weeks to the day since his last start. One start per two weeks is not a good pace to get a young goalie acclimated to the NHL, nor is it good for a goaltender who their franchise professed was going to get more rest and is still ‘the guy’.
Zatkoff will have his chance this weekend, but it shouldn’t stop there. The Pens need to find out if how far they can go in the season with him as their backup, and the only way to do that is to play him on a more consistent basis. That way if he continues to flop, the Pens can identify a new option before their franchise goalie gets burned out, again.
Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter, @AMurphyTFC.