SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Penguins are trying to make a three-goaltender situation work.
For now, that means that veteran Tomas Vokoun is getting the odd-man-out treatment at times as he works to get back into game shape and game sharpness.
The priority in practice has been to get No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and rookie backup Jeff Zatkoff the bulk of the work.
Zatkoff started Thursday night in a late game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.
It has been difficult enough to find playing time for Zatkoff, who was making his 13th appearance this season but first since Jan. 30 largely because of the NHL’s Olympic break.
“With Marc and Jeff needing the net most of the time in practice, and the [limited] amount of practice that we do get, it’s not a spot where we’re going to put two nets out and rotate three goalies in practice,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Vokoun often has been left out. Thursday morning, for example, he remained off the ice the majority of the game-day skate, then came out to work with the stragglers when Zatkoff left. The starting goalie usually is first off of the ice in the morning.
“We’re going to continue to go with that and adjust based on who’s going to be in the net,” said Bylsma, noting it’s more difficult at home, when the Penguins are limited to 45 minutes for a game-day skate so that the ice can be cleaned in time for the visiting team’s skate.
It’s unclear when Vokoun or the team will deem him ready to play or what will happen when that day comes. At some point, the Penguins might need to decide whether to go into the playoffs in mid-April with a rookie backup goalie coming off a strong season or a veteran who could be rusty but stepped in last postseason and played well in relief of Fleury.
In the meantime, Zatkoff isn’t looking over his shoulder unless it’s to see a puck go by — and that’s has not happened often, considering he lugged a .909 save percentage into the game.
“It’s not something that I’m really worried about,” Zatkoff said. “Everyone knows [Vokoun’s] history. He’s a great goalie. He’s played 17 years in the league. I’m just trying to go about my business and work hard in practice and compete, and, when I get the chance to play in a game, play.
“As far as asserting myself, I’m not trying to do that. I’m just trying to go out there and compete and play my game.”
Zatkoff unexpectedly became the backup after Vokoun was diagnosed with a blood clot in training camp. Vokoun had a procedure to dissolve the clot, then was on blood-thinners for several months and not allowed to face shots. He has not played this season.
Thursday night, Zatkoff might have felt as if he had been out all season, too, because of the long span between starts.
“You just put an emphasis on your game and your practice,” he said earlier in the week. “This is the longest [layoff], been over a month because of the Olympic break, but I’m excited. I’m ready to get back in there, get back in the game flow and in game situations.”
Zatkoff lost in his first two NHL starts, but then went 9-0-1 in his next 10 going into the game against the Sharks.
He was asked, as someone who got thrust into his role on a relatively last-minute basis, if he would change anything about the season.
“First two games?” he said, laughing.
“It’s gone well. I’ve been really fortunate. The guys have scored a lot of goals for me and played really well when I’ve been in there. We have a really good team, so I should have a good record. I’ve always believed in myself and had confidence in myself that I can succeed at this level.
“To be able to get the opportunity and put some wins together has been nice, but, obviously, there’s still a lot of work left, a lot of games left in the year. Just keep building on what I’ve been able to do so far.”
Kennedy struggles on ice
Sharks winger Tyler Kennedy, who was drafted by the Penguins and spent his first six NHL seasons with them, entered the game with no goals in 10 games and just one in his past 29.
“I’ve had a couple of hiccups here and there during the year,” said Kennedy, who had four goals, 16 points before facing his former team. “I’m trying to focus on these last 20 games [of the regular season], trying to get my game going.”
Kennedy, traded to San Jose last summer, likes northern California.
“I’m really enjoying the living,” he said. “The living has been unbelievable. It’s really an enjoyable life out here — the weather, the beach is 20 minutes away. You can really kick your feet up. The sun, too. Whenever you leave practice, if you’re down or tired, you go out and get some sun. That always helps you energy-wise.”
Penguins winger Beau Bennett, recovering from wrist surgery, took part in the game-day skate, but only because it was optional. “Not a change in status for Beau yet,” Bylsma said. … Fifteen skaters and the three goalies participated in the skate. … Sharks winger Patrick Marleau, who has won two Olympic gold medals as a Team Canada teammate of Penguins star center Sidney Crosby: “It’s fun to be able to go on the ice and practice with him, play on the same team. I’ve been able to go to a few different camps that’s he’s at in the summer and in the [NHL] lockout. Just a good guy to be around, fun to be around.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.