Oct 25, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The New York Islanders celebrate a goal by left wing Matt Moulson (26) as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff (37) reacts during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Has Backup Goaltender Issue


After another shaky performance from backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, the Pittsburgh Penguins are realizing Tomas Vokoun’s absence is really starting to show.

With only two starts under his belt, Zatkoff has been anything but impressive.

Allowing ten goals and owning a horrific 5.04 goals-against-average, Zatkoff hasn’t panned out the way Pittsburgh had hoped, and they might want to consider looking elsewhere for somebody to backstop Marc-Andre Fleury.

To cut Zatkoff some slack, the two games he’s played in were his first two NHL starts ever; however, being that as it may, Pittsburgh only has three losses on the year, with two of them belonging to him.

Surrendering six goals to the lowly Florida Panthers earlier this month and four to the New York Islanders last night, Zatkoff hasn’t really given the Pens’ a shot at winning.

It’s not like the team hasn’t supported him offensively, because they scored four in the Florida game and three in last night’s seesaw battle — which should be enough to come out with a win.

Most of the goals he’s let in have looked terrible too. They’ve squeaked, crept, and wiggled their way by — nearly identical to the forgettable ones Fleury conceded this past postseason.

With Vokoun’s availability this season being cloudy, is it time for the Penguins to start searching for an alternative option?

You also have to put the teams’ salary cap into perspective.

Already pushing the boundaries of the payroll limit, you have to think that Pittsburgh can’t afford to sign anybody else. Or at least if they did, the potential signee would have to ink to the bare minimum, and even that might be tough to fit into the budget.

Goaltenders’ Ilya Bryzgalov, Mathieu Garon, and Johan Hedberg are probably their best options — but are they really worth putting on the roster?

Garon and Hedberg could be good nominees considering they’ve each played in Pittsburgh’s organization. Only thing is, they haven’t performed in a single game this year, and they also haven’t had a training camp or a preseason.

Whichever way you look at it, Zatkoff will most likely continue to fill-in for Vokoun, and it scares me. The team could look within the organization, however, they probably won’t find anyone that’s ready or will be any more effective than Zatkoff.

The only benefit that’s coming out of this is the fact that Fleury is playing extremely well out the gate. Recognizing the team has an inexperienced backup, Fleury’s psyche is thriving because he knows the team needs him now more than ever.

We’ll have to see how this situation plays out, but the team has got to find a way to either get Zatkoff rolling or Fleury a better counterpart.

Pittsburgh plays tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m.


Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins

  • TomD

    Many thoughts about your post, Johnny.

    I hope you are right about Fleury over the rest of the regular season . . . but his play right now reminds me too much of his regular season play from recent years. Steady play interspersed with erratic play. The Penguin’s are playing better defense in front of their goaltenders this year . . . frequently outshooting their opponents 2 to 1 . . . but still losing close games. Not a good sign. And giveaways are still a problem.

    With all the talent at forward, and more consistent play on defense, it is a shame that this team will probably lose many regular season games due to inconsistent goaltending. Luckily, they play in the weakest division in the NHL. But the playoffs will demand more consistent goaltending.

    Vokoun will probably not play again, although this is speculation, so a permanent backup goaltender will have to be found, and soon. As you say, there is no clear backup for Fleury in the organization, and, to further complicate matters, I am not convinced that Fleury is any longer a championship-team-caliber goaltender. So both positions are questionable for the playoffs. Fleury probably cannot be traded, his value, I imagine, is now very low, especially with his $5M per year salary. So Fleury is here for the present. Now, how do we acquire a quality backup goaltender during the regular season on such short notice?

    This must be giving Shero fits . . . trying to figure out how to do what is necessary, improve the goaltending position on an otherwise championship caliber team, with the constraints of salary caps and the inability to move existing goaltenders for more talented ones. If he can figure this out, he has earned my respect and admiration, but his task is a difficult one.

    • Johnny

      A well thought out response Tom. What troubles me the most is that we know Fleury is going to play well during the regular-season, but it’s always a mystery as to if he’ll show up in the postseason.

      And to the salary cap problems, while it probably was in their best interest to keep Letang, I haven’t for the life of me figured out why they insist on keeping Paul Martin. This is a guy who is making $5 mill per-year and hasn’t shown me any type of consistency that allows the team to give him such high praise. If they’re as jam-packed on defense as they are proclaimed to be, why not depart with Martin and insert Pouliot? Could a young, talented blueliner really hurt their team anymore than it already is on defense?

      This also kind of relates to Neal’s situation. He’s always injured, disappears in the playoffs, yet they continue to pay him top dollar to play on a line with Malkin. I understand they’ve got some sort of chemistry and all, but is Neal really worth all that money? Why not deal Neal and Martin? It’d clear up a load of cap-room and give them money for future endeavors — possibly going after a free-agent.

      • TomD

        Johnny, I tend to agree with you . . . and would extend it to Letang as well . . . all three, Neal, Martin and Letang could be available in trade for a first-rate goaltender . . . although I do not know off the top of my head if they have contract restrictions on teams they can be traded to. Although I agree that Martin’s salary is high for his contribution to the team, Neal and Letang would both be more tradeable to me. Especially Letang.

        I think history has shown that the most significant position for playoff success is goaltender . . . and right now that is the teams weakest position. And Fleury’s regular season numbers are okay, but not great. Last year he ranked somewhere above the middle of the pack in both GAA and Save%. He ranked high in Wins because he plays for Pittsburgh.

        Also, perhaps some of the younger defensemen, still in the minors, may be attractive to another team. Combine one or two of them with Neal or Letang, perhaps there is a doable trade there. Which team, though, has a top line goaltender that they would be willing to part with, even a backup? And this even further complicates matters . . . most teams know that goaltender is the key position on the team . . . so that is the last position they will trade away . . . unless there are contract/salary issues, like Ryan Miller in Buffalo. Right now, I’d be more than willing to swap Fleury for Miller, but salary issues might complicate matters, plus I am pretty sure that Buffalo does not want Fleury. Given Fleury’s erratic play and his salary, are there any teams that would trade for him right now?