Penguins minor league report: Goaltenders benefit from defensive scheme
WILKES-BARRE — Both of the goalies on the Baby Pens roster, veteran Jeff Zatkoff and rookie Matt Murray, rank in the top 10 in the American Hockey League in goals-against average. Both also are in the top 20 in save percentage.
That raises important questions. Does John Hynes' prowess as a defensive coach make almost any goalie look good? Are the Penguins getting an accurate read on how well their goalie prospects are developing?
In past years, maybe not.
In Hynes' first year with the Baby Pens in 2010-11, Brad Thiessen went 35-8-1 and was AHL Goalie of the Year. Thiessen hasn't reached those heights since. Last season, minor league journeyman Peter Mannino had a 1.56 GAA in 16 games. This year, Mannino has bounced around between two teams in the ECHL and two teams in the AHL.
“The coaching staff puts a lot of emphasis on (defense), and everyone has to buy in,” Zatkoff said. “You may be a skilled offensive guy, but if you want to play, you have to be able to do that part of the game.”
This year, it is a bit of a different story. Zatkoff and Murray have combined for a .924 save percentage, a number better than any tandem in Hynes' previous four seasons. At times, they have made the team's defense look good.
The 20-year-old, 6-foot-4 Murray is locked in a close competition with junior hockey star Tristan Jarry to be the organization's goalie of the future.
Along with defenseman Derrick Pouliot and captain Tom Kostopoulos, the 27-year-old Zatkoff will represent the Baby Pens in the AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 25-26 in Utica, N.Y.
“When he's playing at his best, he has that whole package,” Hynes said. “He's making sound, simple saves. Everything's under control. Then when we have a massive breakdown or we give up a big play, he makes that save, too, and that brings energy to your team.”
Focus on defense
Pouliot's ability with the puck should make him a hit in the AHL All-Star game, which will be televised on Root Sports. The experience won't help much, however, with the area of the game he has targeted for improvement now that he is back in the minors after a seven-game stay in the NHL.
“Defensive stuff. Little more intense. That sort of thing,” Pouliot said. “I'll get it sharpened up, and it will be better.”
Rookie winger Scott Wilson, who injured his knee seven shifts into his NHL debut against New Jersey on Dec. 2, resumed skating in Wilkes-Barre in a non-contact capacity. Wilson had 12 points and a plus-10 rating in 21 AHL games before the injury.
Minnesota State is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. College Hockey Online national poll for the first time in school history, and a Penguins prospect is part of the reason.
Playmaking junior center Teddy Blueger, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, had points in six of his last seven games entering this weekend for the Mavericks (16-4-1). Blueger was second on the team in scoring with 20 points in 21 games.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.