Shea-ved Ice: Give Zatkoff A Chance

By: Casey Shea

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost 6-3 to the Florida Panthers Friday night on the road. With the loss, the Penguins are now 3-1-0 on the year.

Many things went wrong for the Penguins last night, but you can’t count me on the bandwagon to run goaltender Jeff Zatkoff out of town – yet.

For those who don’t know, Zatkoff made his NHL debut last night. In his wildest dreams, I’m sure he never envisioned allowing six goals and taking the loss.

Regardless, Zatkoff was not exactly given the best opportunity to be successful last night. The entire team looked off. Passes weren’t crisp, the breakout was bogged down, etc.

The point being, fans should put the pitchforks away in regards to Zatkoff.

Were there a couple of goals he’d like to have back? Absolutely. Any goaltender would, but you know what? Weird things happen when you put pucks on net.

If the Penguins had insulated Zatkoff like they did with Marc-Andre Fleury in the first three games, I’ve got a feeling last night’s result might have been a little different.

As a team, the Penguins only blocked 10 Florida shots, which is a season low by far.

Here’s how the season has shaped up so far:

  • Oct. 3 vs. New Jersey – 23 blocks, 27 shots allowed – 3-0 win
  • Oct. 5 vs. Buffalo – 16 blocks, 21 shots allowed – 4-1 win
  • Oct. 8 vs. Carolina – 16 blocks, 34 shots allowed – 5-2 win
  • Oct. 11 vs. Florida – 10 blocks, 30 shots allowed – 6-3 loss

On average, the Penguins were blocking about 18 shots a game heading into the contest with the Panthers. They simply did not do a good job of getting in lanes and helping out their goaltender.

But, it’s an 82-game season. Nights like these are going to happen.

The shot-blocking was not the only problem. The penalty kill was also out of sorts and allowed two goals on four chances.

One of the goals Zatkoff would like to have back was the first power play goal by Jonathan Huberdeau. While on a 5-on-3 advantage, Kris Versteeg tried to go upstairs on Zatkoff. However, the puck hit Zatkoff’s arm, rolled up and over his shoulder, where Huberdeau knocked it in out of the air. It was a flukey type goal where if Zatkoff is a touch more upright or if the puck hits him an inch lower, it’s not in the net.

The same could be said 1:06 later with the Penguins trying to kill of the remainder of the 5-on-4 advantage. Aleksander Barkov attempted a pass from below the goal line, which banked off of Paul Martin’s leg and into the net. Again, a fluke goal.

But, that’s the type of night it was. Pucks that normally don’t go in were getting behind both goaltenders. The Panthers just outworked the Pens for most of the night and were rewarded for it.

One thing that was a little concerning for me was the breakout. The Panthers looked like they had spent days reviewing tape of what the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins did to the Penguins in the playoffs.

They took away the wall on the breakout so the Penguins couldn’t make their patented chip play to transition up the ice with speed. It happened all night long. How many times did the Penguins turn the puck over at their own blue line? I lost count.

In fact, that’s exactly what led to the first goal of the game. Penguin-killer Tomas Fleischmann broke up the break out, fed Brad Boyes who then roofed it over Zatkoff.

In this case, Zatkoff could have come out of the net a little bit more to cut off the angle, but it was just a great shot by Boyes off the crossbar and in.

Anyway, this was just one game. I will grant you that it wasn’t a good game, but to place the blame solely on Zatkoff is foolish. It’s also foolish to assume he can’t play at this level based on one game.

Keep in mind, this was his NHL debut. He’s worked a long time to get this opportunity and while it didn’t go exactly as planned, you need to give him a little bit of time to find himself.

Things are a lot different at the NHL level than they are in the AHL. It’s going to take a little bit for him to get adjusted to the pace and skill level of the NHL.

There’s no need to go running for the hills at the moment. The Penguins don’t need to push the panic button and sign a guy like Johan Hedberg or even Ilya Bryzgalov at this point.

Let’s give Zatkoff about five games to see where he’s at and then reassess the situation. For now, give him and the Penguins the benefit of the doubt and chalk this performance up to just being a bad game.

They won’t have much time to dwell on the loss as they are back in action tonight on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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