Penguins' Zatkoff is part of a wave of young goaltenders.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
EDMONTON, Alberta -- A lot of goaltenders will tell you they don't often look at head-to-head matchups with opposing goaltenders. They usually pay more attention to the players who might score against them.
Penguins backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff has found some exceptions to that contention. He is interested in how several other goalies breaking into the NHL are doing.
"It's nice to see guys that you've played against who have paid their dues in the American [Hockey] League get their opportunity and make the most of it," he said.
There are several young goaltenders, many with no previous NHL experience, who have established themselves as full-time backup goalies, or at least have held their own with a chance to play over a stretch of time beyond an odd game here or there on an emergency call-up.
Penguins at Oilers
■ Game: Penguins at Edmonton Oilers, Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta.
■ When: 10:08 p.m. Friday.
■ TV: Root Sports.
The Penguins faced one of them, Vancouver's Eddie Lack, in their 5-4 shootout win Tuesday in British Columbia. Zatkoff didn't play in that game but is expected to start one of the Penguins' back-to-back games this weekend -- Friday against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place or Saturday at Calgary -- as the Penguins complete their three-game swing through western Canada.
For Zatkoff, 26, the call to play in the NHL for the first time came after Penguins backup Tomas Vokoun had a procedure to dissolve a blood clot at training camp. Vokoun remains on a regimen of blood-thinners with no timetable for resuming practice or rejoining the club.
Zatkoff lost his first two NHL games but is riding a seven-game winning streak that has included his first career shutout.
Others also are doing well.
In Los Angeles, an injury to No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick opened a door for Martin Jones, 23, who started his career with an eight-game winning streak -- including two shutouts in a row -- before faltering some with three losses in a row.
"You see that around the league," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There have been injuries ... and the young guys have had to step in and play and play well. And they have. They've played really well."
Several around the league have been doing that.
It's not known whether Reto Berra will start for the Flames Saturday when the Penguins visit Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. This 27-year-old rookie has played a lot, although a four-game losing streak has dropped his record to 5-12-2.
A few others:
• In Nashville, where Pekka Rinne has been hurt, Marek Mazanec, 22, is 6-8-3 with two shutouts.
• In San Jose, Alex Stalock, 26, is backing up Antti Niemi after playing in just three NHL games previously. He is 5-2.
• In Chicago, Antti Raanta, 24, was 11-1-3 in his first season in North America before Wednesday night.
• With the New York Rangers, Cam Talbot, 26, beat out veteran Marty Biron, who retired, to be the backup behind Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot was 9-3 before the Rangers played Chicago Wednesday and, like Jones, had two shutouts in a row.
Biron is one of many goaltenders who bounced around the NHL for years, serving as strong, experienced backups, but have recently retired. The Penguins have employed such veterans in recent seasons, including Brent Johnson and Ty Conklin, both now retired.
While there were capable veteran backups circulating through the league, a task that already was difficult -- breaking into the NHL as a young goalie -- proved to be more daunting.
"There are only two spots [per club], and most teams have their No. 1s," Zatkoff said. "Some of the backups who have been in the league for a while are starting to retire. That's why you're seeing almost a newer wave of more backups come in. More guys are getting opportunities and making the most of it."
It's not always easy for a coach to trust a rookie goalie.
John Tortorella, in his first season as Vancouver's coach, inherited a situation where Lack, 26, was going to be his backup after a lot of consternation over goaltender Roberto Luongo's status and the loss of Cory Schneider, who was traded to New Jersey.
"Coming to a new team, the stuff involving Roberto, and not knowing Eddie, it was a concern of mine," Tortorella said.
"As a coach, you have to put him in. Eddie, right away, it was pretty easy for me to see his demeanor and how he plays, that he was going to be able to handle this."
Lack is 7-3-3 with two shutouts. Tortorella puts a lot of value on the role of backup goaltender.
"If you want to get where you want to be come May and June [deep in the playoffs], you can't be playing your No. 1 [too heavily] throughout the year," he said. "You've got to make sure that he has some sort of freshness to him when you start the playoffs. It's a huge role, not only just to play the games, but to get points."
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.
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