Jeff Zatkoff wasn’t supposed to be in the NHL this season. After he let in six goals in a 6-3 loss Oct. 11 at Florida in his NHL debut, there were those who wondered whether he belonged in the NHL.
“It’s one game. I didn’t start the way I wanted to,” the Penguins goaltender recalled Saturday. “But I knew what I was capable of. I had confidence in myself.”
Zatkoff, 26, shook off that game and now is 6-2 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .912 save percentage as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup.
As a reward, the Penguins signed Zatkoff to a two-year, $1.2 million contract extension that kicks in for next season.
Slated to play in the American Hockey League, Zatkoff was pressed into playing in the NHL when goaltender Tomas Vokoun got knocked out of at least the first half of this season by a blood clot problem.
While Zatkoff isn’t getting as much of a workload as Vokoun likely would have, the Penguins are satisfied with him as their backup.
“It wasn’t the best start for a goalie getting in the net for the first time [at Florida], but he’s a guy we believed could go in there and be a good backstop, be a good guy to go in there to count on,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “And he’s been that.”
Zatkoff had been slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July.
“I love it here,” he said. “Love the city. Love this organization. To be able to stay here with a great group of guys, knowing you always have a chance to win and compete every single year, it’s exciting.”
Raising his game
Center Sidney Crosby scored his 20th goal and added two assists Saturday in the Penguins’ 4-3 victory against Calgary at Consol Energy Center. It was his third multiple-point game in a row and 16th of the season as he improved his NHL-leading season total to 54 points.
Bylsma does not see Crosby’s recent stretch and a string of injuries that have allowed several minor leaguers to become regulars lately as a coincidence.
“There’s no question the elevation of his game,” Bylsma said.
Bylsma extended that to Crosby’s line, including wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Those three have produced at least one goal a game and combined for an average of 3.6 points a game over the past 12 games in a row.
The Penguins have won 11 of those games, including seven in a row.
“They’ve been huge for us,” Bylsma said.
Crosby, the team captain, admitted to feeling the high of winning.
“Winning always makes things better,” he said. “There’s no secret there. Winning kind of solves everything. I think you just try to ride that momentum.”
But he wasn’t willing to accept credit for being his team’s spark plug or admit to feeling more responsibility than any other player.
“I think we all do collectively,” he said. “We’re all trying to do our best to chip in and get through this. It’s not common. You’re not used to being in this situation [with so many injuries], but I think just kind of having the attitude and the mindset of going out there and trying to outwork the other team has done us well.”
Malkin on the mend
Bylsma hinted that center Evgeni Malkin, who missed his fourth game in a row because of an unspecified injury, might be shut down until after the coming week’s Christmas break as a chance for Malkin to be stronger in a return.
“Considering the time period that we have after [Saturday’s game] … there will be consideration given to that,” Bylsma said.
“But he did skate [Saturday morning] and skated at greater length.”
The Penguins’ only remaining game before the break is Monday night at Ottawa.
The only other two injured players who seem close to returning are winger Tanner Glass (hand) and defenseman Rob Scuderi (ankle).
The Penguins’ only healthy scratch was forward Brian Gibbons. … Defenseman Deryk Engelland served the fourth game of a five-game suspension. He is eligible to return the first game after the break, Friday at Carolina … The Penguins have not trailed at Consol Energy Center in their past 377 minutes, 19 seconds there. … The Penguins are 7-2 against Western Conference teams.
Dave Molinari: email@example.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly First Published December 21, 2013 11:44 AM