After two arguably disastrous starts, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff can finally enjoy a post-game press conference after his 18 save shutout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Pens rolled to a 3-0 victory in the Nationwide Arena and sweep the home-and-home between the Metropolitan Division foes. The win was led by strong defense and their rookie goalie making saves and not mistakes.
Deryk Engelland, Jussi Jokinen, and Chris Kunitz (really Blake Cuomo) scored for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby picked a assist and now has 23 points on the year, leading the NHL by three over Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Evgeni Malkin also registered a helper but has not tallied a goal since October 17th.
Zatkoff said of his first career win, "“It’s exciting. I’ve been waiting for a month so it feels like a weight is off my shoulder. It’s nice to be able to contribute to the team in the win column."
He added, "Anytime you play more, you're going to get more experience. You're going to get better with your reads and learn how the team plays in front of you."
Not to take anything away from Zatkoff, but the Penguins defensive effort in front of him was marvelous. Pittsburgh nearly had has many blocked shots (15) as Columbus had shots on net (19). The Pens also did a great job of clearing the puck from their zone and not giving any Blue Jackets a quality look. The defense looked like it did at the beginning of the season, and that's swell.
Zatkoff noticed it, "The guys played unreal tonight. They didn't give up too much, and they started shooting more in the third but nothing too high-quality. When we got that second one I thought we did a great job of locking it down. They got bodies but they didn't get pucks. That's the biggest thing. Our guys were fronting shots all night. Our forwards blocked a ton of shots."
Not to be outdone in the complaints department, defenseman Matt Niskanen said, "Good effort individually and collectively as a group. We really had that focus. Playing well defensively for Jeff. For him to get a shutout in his first one is a pretty cool moment. Guys played hard for him and he made big saves when he had to.”
If this is the Zatkoff we've been expecting, then the Penguins might start giving Marc-Andre Fleury more rest days. Keeping Flower fresh for the playoffs is something the team should remember. But the pens will be lousy with rest as they play only five games the next two weeks. It' not unlikely that the next time Zatkoff's in the crease will be November 16th against the New Jersey Devils. He should be a tad more confident going into that one though.
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