For Penguins’ Zatkoff, disappointing debut
SUNRISE, Fla. — Jeff Zatkoff put it on himself Friday night.
“That’s the difference, and I’ve got to be better,” he said after making 24 saves in the Penguins’ 6-3 loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center.
Zatkoff was thrilled to make his first NHL start but not pleased with his performance.
He failed to squeeze shots between his arms and control rebounds with his legs, and he occasionally lost track of pucks near the blue-painted crease.
“I felt fine,” Zatkoff said, downplaying any nervousness.
The Penguins were not fine, and defenseman Rob Scuderi said they did not do right by their backup goalie.
“We were sloppy in the neutral zone, and that led to not enough time in our zone, and that led to too many chances for them,” Scuderi said. “It was a lack of focus.”
In three opening wins, all at home, the Penguins averaged 16 shots against through the first two periods. The Panthers registered 13 in the opening 20 minutes and finished with 30.
The Penguins were charged with two giveaways, but coach Dan Bylsma suggested his film review will find a higher total.
“The chances and opportunities we gave up from the start … that was a tough spot for (Zatkoff) to be in,” Bylsma said.
Captain Sidney Crosby attributed some of the sloppy play to trailing from the beginning. The Penguins were behind by scores of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2 before a second-period goal by right winger Pascal Dupuis, his first.
Center Evgeni Malkin (first) and winger Craig Adams (third) also scored.
Dupuis’ goal with about eight minutes left in the second period looked as though it might tilt fortunes in the Penguins’ favor, as it cut Florida’s lead to 4-3.
That look was erased by a goal from Panthers winger Tomas Fleischmann almost seven minutes into the third.
“They like to play a fast game, get their defensemen involved,” Crosby said of the Panthers, who were drubbed 7-2 at Tampa Bay the night before this home-opening victory.
Crosby — like Scuderi and Bylsma — was aware in the wake of this defeat that lessons can be learned.
“It reinforces more how you have to manage the puck,” Crosby said.
The Penguins (3-1-0, 6 points) need not wait long to try to improve. They play at Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Their franchise goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, will make his fourth start. He has allowed three goals on 82 shots.
For Zatkoff, said goalie coach Mike Bales, this start was “part of his earned progression.”
A collegiate standout at Miami (Ohio), Zatkoff started his professional career with Ontario of the East Coast Hockey League. After a year, he spent two years playing sparingly with Manchester (AHL) before becoming that club’s No. 1.
The Penguins brought him to their AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, last season — and that is where he was supposed to spend this season.
However, a blood clot has sidelined Tomas Vokoun for at least three months, and that has placed Zatkoff, 26, in prime position to establish himself as an NHL-ready goalie.
The Penguins need that much from him because they are within $100,000 of the $64.3 million salary cap.
Zatkoff needs to provide stability on the rare instances he is called upon, as Bylsma said Fleury will carry about 70 percent of the workload.
Bylsma did not blame Zatkoff for a loss that snapped the Penguins’ three-game winning streak.
Fleury, 10 years removed from his debut, offered a scouting report of a goalie he believes can make it in the NHL.
“He’s patient, reads the play well,” Fleury said. “I find he takes up a lot of room.
“He’s good, you know. The first game is always different. It always gets better.”