Penguins goalie Zatkoff ready to prove worth between the pipes
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff's opportunity has finally arrived.
Zatkoff will start one of the Penguins' two games this weekend — possibly Friday against Florida — and his teammates don't seem the least bit alarmed about playing in front of a goaltender in his first NHL game.
“I think he's a good goalie,” center Sidney Crosby said. “You don't want to leave him hung out to dry or anything, but honestly, I don't think we need to change the way we're playing when he gets in there. He's been good. He looks calm.”
Zatkoff, like Crosby, was born in 1987. But he's taken a long path to the NHL.
A former Los Angeles Kings draft pick, Zatkoff has played for Sioux City (USHL), the Miami (Ohio), the Ontario (Calif.) Reign, the Manchester Monarchs (AHL) and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL).
After playing in 82 NCAA games, 161 AHL games, 37 ECHL games and 24 USHL games, Zatkoff will get a taste of the NHL.
“It's something I've been working for,” Zatkoff said. “To make it to this level, I'm excited to get in there and get a chance to play.”
Goalie Tomas Vokoun's misfortune has benefited Zatkoff.
Vokoun was slated to receive close to 40 percent of the playing time while backing up starter Marc-Andre Fleury. However, Vokoun's season — and possibly his career — is in jeopardy because of a blood clot that will keep him out of the lineup for three-to-six months.
“Obviously, it's too bad for Tomas,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “But it's an opportunity for Jeff, and he was really good in camp. We all feel good about how he's going to play.”
Being a backup is something relatively new for Zatkoff. He has been a regular starter, compiling a 67-54-6 record during the past three years in the AHL.
“It's definitely a different scenario for me,” Zatkoff said. “There is a lot more emphasis on practice, trying to stay sharp.”
Goalies prefer to receive regular action, which can make veteran backups who don't get consistent playing time to maintain sharpness a luxury.
With Vokoun's status a mystery and the Penguins near the salary cap, they possess little choice but to let Zatkoff play. And no one seems concerned it.
“He's been so good,” center Brandon Sutter said. “I'm sure he didn't know what to expect entering this season, but he was great during the exhibitions. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Zatkoff is a former third-round draft pick. While Vokoun's misfortune created Zatkoff's opportunity, the 26-year-old has dealt with misfortune of his own.
He was drafted by a Kings team that boasted star goalie Jonathan Quick and his backup, Jonathan Bernier, who has emerged as a strong goaltender in Toronto. The play of those two didn't allow Zatkoff to get a taste of NHL action.
Fleury and Vokoun were blocking his way to the NHL last season.
“He's waited a long time for the chance,” Niskanen said. “I'm sure he's excited.”
Zatkoff said family members from Detroit might travel to Florida for the weekend.
He hopes that this isn't a cameo and that friends and family members will see him play in many NHL arenas.
“Being a backup is a different thing for me, but it's my role now,” he said. “I want to get in there and win some games when I get a chance.”
That chance has arrived.