The Case For Jeff Zatkoff

It’s obvious that the Penguins know their goaltender situation going forward. Marc-Andre Fleury is still the starting goalie despite his concussion and his young protege Matt Murray has carried the load in the playoffs covering his absence. Jeff Zatkoff should be shuffled out of that mix…or should he?
I had been one to criticize “Big Z” throughout the season in his limited starts that he received. I had called for Matt Murray like many of us had done.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2006 and never receiving even a call up to the NHL level, Zatkoff entered free agency in 2011. The Penguins felt compelled to give him a job the day free agency opened and signed him two a two year deal to be Fleury’s backup.
Making his NHL debut on October 11, 2013, Zatkoff went on that season to post a 12-6-2 record with a 2.61 GAA, and a .912 SV%. He was an impeccable force and the Penguins felt more compelled to allow Fleury to have some games off throughout the season because they had a backup capable of doing his job and winning games while making the necessary saves no matter the situation.
It’s tough for any backup to come in off the bench or get into a starters mentality, but those numbers Zatkoff was able to post in the 2013-2014 season can’t be overlooked. Obviously you could look to his sloppy 4-7-1 record and 2.79 GAA. His SV% rose to a .917 this season however, granted he faced less game time than just two seasons ago.
He had a very nice opening start this season. He was granted the crease against the Buffalo Sabres in Dan Bylsma’s return to Pittsburgh. He stopped 50 of 53 shots after being peppered all night like in what looked like the Jeff Zatkoff of old. However, that was not the case. In the 12 games he entered this season, Zatkoff turned in 4 (or ¼) sub .900 save percentage games. He did have a nice 42 save performance against the Florida Panthers late in the year that cheered him up a little.
The reason this all matters is that his contract will run out this offseason. And with Matt Murray’s emergence, it seems as though Zatkoff is the odd man out.
I honestly feel for Zatkoff. Everyone, myself included, had been tearing Zatkoff apart anytime he let a goal in behind him. No matter who’s fault the goal was, 98% of Pens Twitter was there to bury Zatkoff and put the blame on his shoulders. Then comes game 1 of the first round of the playoffs and Zatkoff is announced the starter with both Fleury and Murray shelved with injuries. He turns in an unbelievable performance and outplays “Queen” Henrik Lundqvist for his first NHL playoff victory. People’s perceptions change and Zatkoff becomes that lovable guy he was just two years ago.
I, for one, thought it unfair that Zatkoff was sent down in favor of Thomas Greiss last season when GM Jim Rutherford came in and decided to take away the job from Zatkoff despite his very solid play the season prior.
Zatkoff spent the entire season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton helping to develop Matt Murray into the goalie that we are seeing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He watched as Murray broke record after record and win the AHL’s version of the Vezina. He mentored Matt Murray and did it all with a smile on his face.
Everyone, including his goaltending partners Fleury and Murray, have commented on how great of a locker room guy he is. They remark about how positive his attitude is despite being shuffled down to the third string goalie on the depth chart. I don’t care what kind of team you are, you need someone like that on your roster.
I’m fully confident that Jeff Zatkoff can be a backup on an NHL team that lacks one going into the free agency period in July. It’s obvious he won’t crack the NHL roster next season with Flower and Muz being the obvious choices. I don’t see him wanting to resign here knowing that he would be assigned to the AHL. But if somewhere in his heart, Jeff Zatkoff wants to stay with the organization that gave him the opportunity to showcase his name and talents in the NHL, he’d be welcomed by me.
Why keep him in that capacity, you ask? Well the answer is simple. Did you see the goalie situation going into round 1? Fleury was concussed a few weeks prior on a James Neal wrister to the helmet. Matt Murray was injured in the final game of the season when Brayden Schenn unintentionally ran him over. Jeff Zatkoff stepped in and won game one. That’s composure. That’s confidence. That’s incredible.
With Tristan Jarry in the AHL and the emergence of Casey DeSmith in the Calder Cup playoffs for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, maybe Zatkoff is really the odd man out.
Going back to Greiss, just look at the success he’s having with the New York Islanders. He backstopped them to their first playoff series victory since 1993 after stepping I’m due to an injury to starter Jaroslav Halak. Things just didn’t work out here and the same could be said for Zatkoff after this season.
As I said before it’s unlikely he has a job in Pittsburgh next season. But please people, realize and appreciate what Jeff Zatkoff did as a Pittsburgh Penguin and wish him luck in his future endeavors. Some NHL team out there will be lucky to have Zatkoff as their full-time backup and hell, who knows? Maybe he outplays someone’s starting goalie and is the second coming of Greiss. Playing behind Marc-Andre Fleury and being coached by Mike Bales can’t hurt anyone.

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