By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Penguins overcame their own sloppiness to split a weekend road trip in the Sunshine State, and they remain relatively unharmed by a lack of goaltending depth as they prepare to welcome the Edmonton Oilers to CONSOL Energy Center Tuesday at 7:00 on ROOT Sports.

Conventional wisdom says Marc-Andre Fleury will remain in goal after improving to 4-0 with a 1.75 GAA in Saturday’s 5-4 comeback win at Tampa Bay. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff gave him a reprieve 24 hours earlier.

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Fleury is 4-2 lifetime against Edmonton with a 2.68 GAA.

Friday marked a rather murky NHL debut for the erstwhile Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farmhand. Although, fundamentally speaking, it was easy to punch holes in his game during a 6-3 loss to the fledgling Florida Panthers at BB&T Center, Zatkoff, who stopped just 24 of 30 shots, was also victimized by poor play in front of him.

Fleury can certainly relate. When he made his NHL debut Oct. 10, 2003 at age 18–eight years younger than Zatkoff–the Crosby Era had not yet begun, and the franchise’s proverbial cupboard was quite empty. He, too, got off to an unimpressive start by losing 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings and allowing a shorthanded goal on the first shot he faced, and he didn’t get much help. The Pens had 11 shots on goal that night.

Still, in a harbinger of things to come, the budding Flower made 46 saves, including a penalty shot denial. So, for Zatkoff, one of the top tendys in the American Hockey League last season, his window for greatness is anything but closed.

With the Penguins facing back-to-back situations five of the next seven weekends, expect Zatkoff to remain Fleury’s No. 2 and get several shots at redemption in the foreseeable future while playoff spark plug Tomas Vokoun recovers from a pelvic blood clot.

“Win/loss records are a terrible way to judge goalies, but they do a good job of showing how a team has performed with a given goalie in net—and with Fleury in net over that span, Pittsburgh has more than twice as many wins (173) as it does in regulation losses (84),” Bleacher Report featured NHL columnist Jonathan Willis points out.

Click here to read the full column by Willis, which includes 2013-14 projections for Zatkoff that measure up well with NHL backups.

Furthermore, as Sports Illustrated NHL writer Allan Muir reported after news of Vokoun’s injury broke, the Pens aren’t likely to pursue veteran help in net–not just because of their precarious salary cap situation, but because the market, by Penguin standards, is poor.

“Jose Theodore’s name will be brought up, but his inconsistency in general, and his vulnerability to high shots in particular, mean he’s probably not much more appealing,” Muir said. “With him, it’s not just about letting in goals. It’s letting in those killer goals, the backbreakers that deflate a team. The Pens already dress one of those guys.”

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Muir also dismisses any notion of Flyer castoff Ilya Bryzgalov landing in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, former Penguin Johan Hedberg is still without a home now that Cory Schneider has supplanted him as Martin Brodeur’s new backup in New Jersey.

“He’s affordable and a great team player, but that .883 save percentage last season paints a neat picture of why he hasn’t already landed a gig elsewhere. Maybe those scratches and dents wouldn’t look so bad playing behind the Pens’ defense, but he’d still be a risky choice.”

Click here to read the full column by Muir.

Stay tuned to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for the latest.


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