It helps to have Evgeni Malkin in the midst of a hot streak.
Zatkoff made 39 saves, and Malkin had a goal and three assists to lead the Penguins to a 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Zatkoff gave up six goals on 30 shots in a 6-3 loss to the Panthers in his first NHL appearance on Oct. 11. Malkin has four goals and 13 assists during an eight-game scoring streak.
"Having a few games under your belt, I feel like I'm getting better every game, feeling a little more comfortable every game, feeling the puck," Zatkoff said. "It's nice to get a second crack at these guys."
Zatkoff is 4-2-0 and raised his save percentage from .877 to .901. He was particularly strong in the first and third periods, when he stopped all 31 shots he faced.
"I can reference his first game in this building, but it's been a while between those starts and he's had some success," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "But tonight, I thought he was very good, came up big for us on numerous occasions, the first period in particular. I think our best player [was] Jeff Zatkoff."
Without question, Malkin was Pittsburgh's best offensive player. His four points were a season high and give him 35 on the season, one behind teammate Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead.
"I'd love to see them both at the top at the end of the year," Bylsma said. "[Evgeni] did it a lot of ways tonight. ... His effort has been pretty consistent for a long stretch of games here. Pretty remarkable night in the duty he did get."
Neal has seven goals and six assists in his past seven games.
Pittsburgh defeated Tampa Bay 3-0 Friday, when Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for his third shutout of the season.
Scottie Upshall scored for the Panthers, who are 1-2-0 on their five-game homestand, which includes games against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
Florida outshot Pittsburgh 40-22.
Tim Thomas, making his 11th consecutive start for the Panthers, gave up four goals on 13 shots before being replaced by Scott Clemmensen to start the third period. Thomas gave up two goals on the first four shots he faced and the Penguins took a 2-0 lead.
Clemmensen made his first appearance since starting Nov. 7 in a 4-1 road loss against the Boston Bruins, the last game coached by Kevin Dineen before he was fired by the Panthers the next morning.
Florida outshot Pittsburgh 15-6 in the first period, but trailed in part because Zatkoff outplayed Thomas and because the Panthers were 0-for-3 on the power play.
Kunitz, who scored twice against Tampa Bay on Friday, opened the scoring at 10:45 of the first period with a power-play goal. After Malkin dumped the puck behind the Florida net, he intercepted Thomas' clearing attempt along the boards and fired a pass toward the goal. The puck bounced to the front, and Kunitz was able to score into an open net, even though he misfired on the shot.
"We're battling through adversity," Thomas said. "We're working hard. We got 40 shots tonight. Their goalie played extremely well. The Penguins were opportunistic, but we're shooting ourselves in the foot, myself included. That first goal shot the big toe off, and a couple of the other goals we shot a couple of the other toes off.
"That's happening on a relatively consistent basis. That's something that we have to find a way to eliminate. I'm almost tired of saying it, but it's true … we're doing a lot of good things in a lot of areas, but then when we do make mistakes, they seem to be huge mistakes and they end up in the back of our net."
Vitale added to the lead 32 seconds later with his first goal of the season with a rebound from a sharp angle. He hadn't scored since March 22 against the New York Islanders.
"It was a long time coming," Vitale said. "[I'm] happy to contribute and get on the board finally. The puck was kind of sitting there by the goal line and I just threw my whole body at it and crashed it in. I think it hit my stick and my knee pad. Anytime they go to the scorer's box, you get nervous."
Malkin made it 3-0 at 7:23 of the second period when he skated with the puck across the blue line, took a return pass from defenseman Olli Maatta and beat Thomas with a slick forehand-to-backhand deke.
Florida appeared to get on the scoreboard midway through the period, but the apparent goal by Brad Boyes was disallowed after video replay determined he kicked the puck into the net.
"I didn't even see the puck," Boyes said. "I know I didn't do that on purpose. I was just going to the net. I saw the replay. I don't know, it could have gone either way. But they called a goal [and] I didn't think it was enough to overturn it. But the bounces, we didn't get them tonight."
The Panthers did score at 17:53 of the second period when Upshall beat Zatkoff with a short backhander after streaking in on the left side. But Pittsburgh restored its three-goal lead 29 seconds later, when Malkin backhanded a pass from behind the net and Neal one-timed it past Thomas from the bottom of the right circle.
Jokinen scored at 6:10 of the third period, when he one-timed Malkin's pass in the slot after a turnover in the Florida zone.
Zatkoff did the rest to help the Penguins match their biggest margin of victory of the season on a night when they had their worst shot differential.
"You always want to play well, especially against a team that put up six on you the last time," Zatkoff said. "I know that wasn't my best the first time around; to be able to come back and get that second opportunity is nice."
|PPG - Chris Kunitz (14) ASST: James Neal (8), Evgeni Malkin (26)|
1 - 0 PIT
|Joe Vitale (1) ASST: Jayson Megna (2), Deryk Engelland (1)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Evgeni Malkin (7) ASST: Olli Maatta (4), Kris Letang (5)|
3 - 0 PIT
|PPG - Scottie Upshall (6) ASST: Jonathan Huberdeau (7), Brian Campbell (10)|
3 - 1 PIT
|James Neal (8) ASST: Evgeni Malkin (27)|
4 - 1 PIT
|Jussi Jokinen (9) ASST: Evgeni Malkin (28)|
5 - 1 PIT
|Power Play %||15.1%||22.1%|
|% on Road||14.3%||10.0%|
|% at Home||15.6%||29.8%|
|Jussi Jokinen Too many men/ice - bench|
|Dmitry Kulikov Tripping against Pascal Dupuis|
|Evgeni Malkin Hooking against Scottie Upshall|
|Sidney Crosby Interference against Tom Gilbert|
|Chris Kunitz Hooking against Nick Bjugstad|