Jeff Zatkoff's Progress Coming Up Big for Pittsburgh Penguins

By Jeff Ekiert
Jeff Zatkoff
Robert Mayer- USA TODAY Sports

On Nov. 27, the Pittsburgh Penguins had one of their worst starts in a game when they found themselves down 3-1 after the Toronto Maple Leafs scored their third goal just 13 seconds into the second period. MarcAndre Fleury was yanked from the net and replaced by Jeff Zatkoff. Despite Zatkoff’s troubles to that point, this game could have been exactly what the Penguins needed.

Toronto scored just seconds later, making it a 4-1 deficit with plenty of time to go. For a moment, it seemed as though it did not even matter who was in goal for Pittsburgh — it was just not their night. That proved to be a false assumption as the Penguins’ backup netminder stopped 11-of-13 shots throughout the game while the offense took initiative scoring four goals (three on the power play) and forced the game to an overtime shootout.

Zatkoff continued to get offensive support as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals while he stopped both Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson in the shootout to secure the win for Pittsburgh. The 6-5 win marked the Penguins’ best comeback of the season.

Not only that, but it also boosted Zatkoff’s confidence. Yes, he has struggled in his limited starts this season, and I for one did state that he is not NHL-ready. And he still may not be ready. But the fact is that he has momentum now and may be showing signs that will force head coach Dan Bylsma to give him more starts. The only way for him to get more confidence in himself and through his teammates is to play, and as a result — give Fleury some well-needed rest.

Just a few days later, Zatkoff got the nod again in the second game of a back-to-back weekend and he was able to shine once more. In what could be his best performance all year, he stopped 39-of-40 shots in their 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers.

The fact that he is looking three-times better than he did his first few starts in the NHL, he may have some (including me) believe he could be a decent backup goaltender at this level. Depending on the condition of Tomas Vokoun and if he will even return this season will have others wondering if the team feels confident enough riding with him as the season goes on.

Nonetheless, it is too early to tell, but the signs of improvement in his game and the fact that he has the best offensive support than any other team in the Eastern Conference is always a plus. Time will tell, but Zatkoff is definitely benefiting from his performance against Toronto. I said it before and I will say it again, Bylsma will not start a backup he does not have confidence in, which means Fleury will get overworked and fatigued, resulting in the destruction in goal come April. Zatkoff needs to continue this path he is on for the team to be successful in the long run.

As far as GM Ray Shero going out and looking for an additional backup goalie, I still believe that will happen before the trade deadline. But for now, their current backup is coming up big.

Jeff Ekiert is the Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL beat writer for Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @jmekiert and add him to your Google account.

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