Tomas Vokoun might still have a little left in the tank.
The 37-year-old goaltender, who has been out since September with a career-threatening pelvic blood clot, returned to practice on Wednesday and announced that he has been cleared to return to action.
This now leaves head coach Dan Bylsma with quite the predicament. Who should backup starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury come playoff time?
First, let’s breakdown the performance of Jeff Zatkoff, the Pens current backup.
After losing his first two games in net this season, which included 10 goals against, there has been no room to complain about his play in between the pipes. Since then, he has a 9-0-1 record and a very respectable 2.1 goals against average.
The issue with Zatkoff is that he hasn’t really played against any serious competition. Having an offense in front of him averaging over three goals per game helps as well.
During the 10-game stretch, Zatkoff faced the New York Islanders twice, Columbus Blue Jackets twice, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings.
If the regular season were to end today, only the Red Wings, Wild and Kings would be in the playoffs, and all three would be the lower seed in their respective series.
So I ask the question, would Penguins fans really trust Zatkoff in the playoffs if Fleury were to flounder?
I would say no, and it’s not like Fleury has been stellar during the playoffs in the last two years.
Last postseason he was permanently replaced by Vokoun, and two years ago Fleury allowed 26 goals against in only six games against the Philadelphia Flyers, who eliminated the Pens in the opening round.
Vokoun, on the other hand, has proved himself in the playoffs with the Penguins and is the more experienced and suitable choice to play the backup role come playoff time.
Zatkoff is only 26 years old, his time will come, but that time is not now. If the Penguins end up winning the cup this season, he will be undoubtedly deserving of a ring because he is a big reason why the Pens could end up with the top seed in the Eastern Conference; however, that doesn’t mean he should get the nod if Fleury were to continue his postseason struggles.
I’m not saying that Vokoun shouldn’t have to earn the spot. He’ll need to play in at least a handful of games toward the end of the regular season in order to get back into shape and knock the rust off.
Moreover, it’s impossible to predict how he is going to play coming off of such a serious injury.
He knows he is on the final stretch of his career, and the chances of the Penguins re-signing him when his contract expires at the end of this season is unlikely. This is, more than likely, his last shot at a ring.
He’ll get his chance, and it’s hard to believe he’ll do anything but deliver.
The biggest difference between the two is that Vokoun has big game experience, whereas Zatkoff simply does not. Zatkoff has never been the man, Vokoun has. Zatkoff has never seen action in the playoffs; Vokoun has 16 starts.
If everything goes to plan, whether it’s Vokoun or Zatkoff that earns the spot, neither will see one minute of playing time and Fleury will be stellar in the postseason.
However, if history tells us anything that won’t be the case, and Vokoun is, in my mind, the far better option to lead the Penguins down the path to Lord Stanley.
So I ask, do you agree or disagree? Please feel free to leave a comment below on who you’d feel more comfortable with in net.
Shane Darrow is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for Rant Sports; Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow