The Pittsburgh Penguins' 4-3 overtime loss last night to the Edmonton Oilers was pretty painful, but completely avoidable. Some fingers will be pointed to the six penalties the Pens took. Especially Brandon Sutter's slash on Justin Schultz with less than a minute till overtime. Four-on-three for a minute and a half will doom any team no matter how good their PK. Some fingers will be pointed toward the lackluster first period where the Pens put up only nine shots and looked terrible doing it. Both factions are right, but the main reason the Pens loss was Jeff Zatkoff.
But it's not like that. Not at all. If anything, the Penguins need to start playing Zatkoff more.
Being a backup goaltender in the NHL is rough. It's even rougher when the dude in front of you is a workhorse like Jonathan Quick or Pekka Rinne or the Penguins own Marc-Andre Fleury. Barring injury (which two of those guys have had this season), that backup is not going to see many games. In Flower's case, he started at least sixty-two games a season between 2008 to 2012. Last year's lockout shortened campaign saw Fleury in net for thirty-three of forty-eight games. That's 80% of the games since '08 and that's not good. Burnout has to be a consideration when dealing with Fleury. It's a possible reason for his playoff troubles and his great season means nothing without a lengthy stay in the postseason.
And that's the strategy of playing Jeff Zatkoff more. It keeps Fleury fresh for April and keeps Zatkoff sharp for the rest of the season. Last night's tilt in Edmonton showed how these long gaps between starts are hindering him. Before being named starter yesterday, Zatkoff had not seen NHL action since December 29th. Go back another ten days and you'll find his start before that. At one time this year, Zatkoff had not played in twenty days (November 2nd to November 22nd). Friday night was the first time this infrequency hurt the Pens and it should be the last time.
After the Olympics, the schedule becomes more compacted than a VW Beetle. To lean on Fleury heavily then makes no sense. To sprinkle in some more Zatkoff starts (even playing him consecutively *gasp!*) makes all the sense in the hockey world. It's not like he cannot go. He's pretty good. Keeping him that way means Zatkoff needs more ice time. The organization does want their 2-year $1.2 million dollar investment to pay off, right?
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