Backup goalie Zatkoff has Penguins talking
Coach Dan Bylsma said he “can't say enough” about the job Jeff Zatkoff has done as the Penguins' backup goalie.
Zatkoff, apparently, just can't ever say enough, period.
The 26-year-old rookie is coming off a November in which he went 4-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in four appearances, putting the Penguins at ease by stabilizing their goaltending situation behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Tomas Vokoun is out with a blood clot in his pelvis.
Zatkoff has his teammates talking — about how well he has played, about how his confidence has grown, about how the need for the Penguins to acquire a veteran backup has been greatly exaggerated.
Mostly, though, the Penguins like to talk about how much Zatkoff talks.
“I think that he is definitely the most vocal (goalie) I've played with,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
“Extremely talkative,” is now defenseman Matt Niskanen described Zatkoff's on-ice demeanor.
“Chatterbox,” is what Bylsma termed him.
“He maybe talks three times as much as you'd expect a goaltender to be chattering through the game. He took me by surprise in Florida (on Saturday). During a TV timeout, he's at the bench and talking about plays and situations, and I'm like, ‘Jeff … get back in the net.' ”
If Zatkoff keeps repeating his performance from that night, it is safe to say Bylsma and his teammates will let him talk all he wants.
Zatkoff stopped 39 of 40 shots in a 5-1 win three days after he earned the win after allowing two goals in 45 minutes of a game he entered in relief of Fleury against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Zatkoff, a five-year AHL veteran, made his NHL debut in Florida on Oct. 11 and allowed six goals on 30 shots in defeat. That only heightened anxiety about the Penguins' goaltending situation after Fleury was replaced by Vokoun during last season's playoffs and Vokoun's ailment was discovered during training camp. Vokoun won't return until January at the earliest.
“His first game wasn't a memorable one for him,” Bylsma said of Zatkoff, “but since then … he really should have won five in a row, he's played so well.
“He won his first game in Columbus (Nov. 2) by shutout — but maybe he played better even in his next two games (at home against the Islanders on Nov. 22 and the Toronto appearance), and played fantastic in Florida.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment of all from Zatkoff's teammates is an unintentional and disconcerting one: He has, perhaps, so earned the Penguins' trust, they allowed 40 shots against him.
In Zatkoff's first NHL win against Columbus, it was clear the game plan was to pack it in and shield him from attack as much as possible. The Blue Jackets had 19 shots that night, fewer than half the amount Zatkoff faced Saturday.
Zatkoff said he “doesn't look at it that way” and that the shot totals were more a function of Saturday being the second of a back-to-back (but so was the Columbus game) and that the Panthers took more of a shooting mentality.
Regardless of how it manifests itself, it's clear the Penguins have grown to have faith in Zatkoff.
“He's been solid,” Crosby said. “You can see it, with each game, he gets more confident.”
And with confidence comes the chatter.
“I like to talk,” Zatkoff said. “I'm pretty social.”
It's Zatkoff's play that's doing the talking now.