Penguins backup goaltender Zatkoff eyes new challenge with team
The names might be different, but the challenge remains the same for Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.
Instead of battling Tomas Vokoun to be Marc-Andre Fleury's backup, Zatkoff will enter training camp having to beat out Thomas Greiss, who agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract July 1, the first day of free agency.
“It's going to be a similar situation to what I was in last year, fighting for a spot,” Zatkoff said after volunteering at a Penguins youth camp at Robert Morris' Island Sports Center. “I can't control who management brings in, but I can control how hard I work, how well I play.”
Zatkoff, 27, played well as a rookie last season, going 12-6-2 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 20 games. He won seven consecutive starts from Nov. 2 to Dec. 29, allowing no more than three goals in any of those games.
Previous general manager Ray Shero rewarded Zatkoff with a two-year, $1.2 million contract extension that runs through the 2015-16 season.
The loyalty shown by Shero and former coach Dan Bylsma — not only the extension but giving Zatkoff his first shot at the NHL — meant a lot. That's why it was difficult for Zatkoff this summer when both men lost their jobs during a tumultuous offseason.
“It's tough when you see guys like that go because, ultimately, it's based on performance and what the players do,” Zatkoff said. “To be sitting there up three games to one on New York, if we pull out one win, you can't help but think what would have happened if we would have made it to the next round and gone from there.”
Maybe Shero is still here.
Maybe Greiss isn't.
Regardless, Zatkoff must fend off a challenge from a goalie who has played 44 games over five years in the NHL. Last season, Greiss' first with Phoenix (now Arizona), he went 10-8-5 in 25 games with a 2.29 GAA and .920 save percentage — all career-best marks.
“As a player, you can't sit there and worry about what's going to happen to you or what management is going to do,” Zatkoff said. “Really all you can worry about is how you play when you get on the ice. They'll make a decision. I'll try to play the best that I can and go from there.”
Zatkoff had a busy summer. After getting married during the season, he and his wife, Kristin, honeymooned in San Francisco and Napa Valley. They also took a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, though it was cut short because of a hurricane.
Back in Pittsburgh since Sunday, Zatkoff is looking forward to getting back to hockey.
“This time of year is always exciting, to get back and start working again and see all the guys that you haven't seen for two or three months,” Zatkoff said. “Now you see them every day again. This is always my favorite time of the year.”