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Penguins sign Zatkoff to new 2-year contract

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff plays against the Islanders on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 11:39 a.m.

Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff's recent strong play hasn't gone unnoticed by his employer.

The Penguins awarded the 26-year-old rookie with a two-year, $1.2 million contract Saturday.

Although it remains to be seen if the Penguins will have the services of goaltender Tomas Vokoun later this season — he has been out since September after surgery to remove a blood clot — and the organization certainly could acquire a veteran backup before the postseason begins, Zatkoff is now officially in their long-term plans.

He will make $600,000 per season in what is a one-way deal.

“It's a great organization,” Zatkoff said. “I'm happy to be a part of it for the next couple of years.”

The Penguins seem happy to have Zatkoff around for the next couple of years, too.

While he doesn't necessarily project as an every-day, NHL starting goaltender, Zatkoff has done solid work as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup. With Fleury's contract up following the 2014-15 season and Vokoun's status unknown — and given the Penguins do not possess a wealth of top-notch goaltending prospects in their system — locking up Zatkoff for a small price was a desire for the team.

“He just didn't have any NHL experience,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He's a guy who we believed could go in there and be a good backstop. He's been that.”

Bylsma referenced Zatkoff's rough NHL outing against Florida, but suggested the Penguins were willing to be patient with him.

It has paid off.

Zatkoff is 6-2 with a 2.46 goals against average.

Close calls

The last thing the Penguins need is an injury to one of their defensemen. It almost happened Saturday against the Calgary Flames. Twice.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta — the tandem is currently being used as the Penguins' top defense pairing with five regulars out of the lineup — both missed about seven minutes of ice time because of separate injuries.

Niskanen left the game after being hit into the Penguins' bench. He returned later in the second period.

Maatta blocked a shot with his hand in the second period but returned for the start of the third.

Despite the missed time, Niskanen played a team-high 22:58 while Maatta played 20:21.

“I got knocked into an open door,” Niskanen said. “I got dinged there for a little bit, but it's OK. Nothing serious.”

Calgary's Curtis Glencross sustained an injury on his first shift of the game and did not return.

Geno to sit in Ottawa?

Center Evgeni Malkin has not played since sustaining in injury to his left leg Dec. 14 in Detroit, and the Penguins will quite possibly hold him out of the lineup until following the holiday break.

They play Monday in Ottawa but then don't play again until Friday in Raleigh against the Hurricanes.

“Considering the time period,” Bylsma said, “and Ottawa being the Monday game, there will be consideration given to the fact.”

Malkin did skate Saturday morning, and the session was more intense than when he skated on Friday.

Scoring change

Niskanen's goal late in the second period was originally awarded to right wing James Neal. However, following the game, it was changed to Niskanen, who now has goals in consecutive games and three this season.

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