Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff will make his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the team announced. Friday night's contest is the first of a back-to-back, which makes it the perfect opportunity to see what Zatkoff can offer the club.
The biggest question surrounding the Penguins this season was the stability of starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Coming off a disastrous showing in last season's playoffs, Fleury was viewed as the weakest link in the team's construction. Having registered adequate numbers in the regular season (he currently has a .963 save percentage with a 1.00 goals against average through three games), Fleury's performances in the postseason have cemented the belief that a capable backup is necessary in the event he goes off the tracks in 2014.
That was complicated this offseason, as backup Tomas Vokoun is dealing with a serious health condition involving blood clots in his legs. As of this writing, Vokoun is projected to miss three-to-six months and is limited to light workouts, making his availability this season a major question mark.
While Vokoun's situation is unfortunate, it does provide a wonderful opportunity for the 26-year-old Zatkoff, who could establish himself as a viable NHL player with a strong showing as Pittsburgh's No. 2.
As PensBurgh points out, giving Zatkoff the chance to play against the Panthers might be the perfect way to begin his NHL career:
And, really, it makes a lot of strategic sense to "ease him in" against the Florida Panthers, the Pens next game on Friday. Florida (1-2-0) has scored just five goals in their first three games. Their power play hasn't scored a single goal yet. And their faceoff percentage is 26th out of 30. Their top scorer is defenseman Brian Campbell (0 goals, 3 assists) the only forwards with more than 1 point in three games are Marcel Goc and 18-year old rookie Aleksander Barkov.
Against the Panthers, in an ideal scenario, Pittsburgh should be able to control the puck, dictate play and probably not give up too many dangerous situations for their goalie, much like they did in the early games against New Jersey and Buffalo.
The Panthers and Penguins are scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.