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Endgame: Penguins 5, Panthers 1

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

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Geico Coach's Corner
Post Game: Evgeni Malkin
Post Game: Jeff Zatkoff
Post Game: Joe Vitale
Preview: Pens vs. Panthers
Verizon Game Day Report
Scouting Report: Florida

Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made his NHL debut in the BB&T Center Oct. 11 against the Florida Panthers. In that game he surrendered six goals in a difficult contest as the Penguins fell 6-3 to the Panthers.

Zatkoff returned to Florida on Saturday night and exorcised the demons of that loss with a spectacular 39-save performance between the pipes to lead the Penguins to a 5-1 victory.

“You always want to play, especially against a team that put up six on you the last time,” Zatkoff said. “That wasn’t my best the first time around. To come back in and get that second opportunity was nice.

“Having a few games under your belt, I feel like I’m getting better every game and feeling more comfortable every game feeling the puck. It was nice to get second crack at these guys. I had a second crack at the (NY) Islanders and now one here.”

Zatkoff made several clutch stops in the first period against Aleksander Barkov and Marcel Goc to help snuff three Florida power plays. He finished the game strong as well with a pair of sick saves on Jimmy Hayes and Scott Gomez in the third period.

“I thought he was very good, came up big for us on numerous occasions, first period in particular,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “On three penalty kills he had three or four very good saves to keep that zero. Our best player tonight was Jeff Zatkoff.”

The Penguins goal scorers were Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale and Evgeni Malkin.

Evgeni Malkin continued his torrid month of November. He scored a beautiful goal, showing sweet hands in tight to slip the puck behind goalie Tim Thomas, and added three assists for a four-point night.

Malkin now has seven goals and 28 assists for 35 points – one behind teammate Sidney Crosby for the NHL’s scoring lead. Though he joked that catching Crosby wasn’t his goal.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Malkin said. “It’s a good friendly battle, but I’m not thinking about it. It’s a long season. It doesn’t matter who wins. We just focus on every game. I want to play hard and help the team.”

Malkin has an eight-game point/assist streak (4G-13A-17PTS) and finished November with four goals and 21 assists for 25 points in 15 games. His 21 assists are a career high for a single month.

Malkin credited the return of winger James Neal for his recent success. The two have been inseparable as linemates ever since their tremendous success together during the 2011-12 season, where Malkin won the NHL scoring trophy and MVP award while Neal blossomed into a true NHL sniper with 40 goals.

“’Nealer’ came back and I started playing better,” Malkin said of his linemate, who returned Nov. 9 in St. Louis after leaving the season opener with an upper-body injury. “We played well tonight and we have a great team. Last night ‘Sid’s’ line played better, tonight we were a little bit better. It changes every game, but good for two points.”

Even though he already had racked up three points (1G-2A) and Pittsburgh had a 4-1 lead in the third period, Malkin was still relentless and capped his night by adding a third helper. Malkin stripped the puck from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and found Jokinen in the slot for a quick snapshot score to make it a 5-1 game.

“His effort has been consistent for a long stretch of games,” Bylsma said of Malkin. “Tonight one was a forecheck, the rush goal, the play by Olli Maatta that he finishes off with a nice move, makes the heads up play on the power play, getting the puck to the net on their turnover. It was a pretty remarkable night in the duty that he did get.”

More remarkable is the fact that Malkin still believes he can play even better.

“I’m not at the top (of my game),” he said. “Sometimes I have the puck and I need to shoot. Instead I pass. It’s a mistake for me. Sometimes I’m in a great position to shoot. I just need to shoot myself.”

It’s been a little over two months since Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun underwent emergency surgery to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis.

The recovery period for Vokoun is 3-6 months. There won’t be any updates on his status for this season, or the rest of his career, until he hits that three-month mark, which would be on Dec. 21.

“In a month I’ll see the doctor and see more of what he thinks I should do,” Vokoun said in the BB&T Center Press Box Saturday night. “Then it’s up to me to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision. In six months it would be tough to come back before the season is over. We’ll see.”

Full story here.

Author: Sam Kasan
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