Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made quite the statement in his season debut with 50 saves in the team’s 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
“I had a lot of run support. I took all of (Marc-Andre Fleury’s) goals,” Zatkoff joked. “He’s been winning every game 2-1. I’ll take four goals.”
The victory marked Zatkoff’s first NHL start since April 13, 2014. After posting a 12-6-2 record in 20 games as Fleury’s backup in 2013-14, Zatkoff spent the the 2014-15 season in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins – where he was named a league All-Star.
Though he hasn’t seen much of Zatkoff in game action, head coach Mike Johnston wasn’t too surprised by the 28-year-old’s impressive outing. He saw it coming.
“You guys saw ‘Zats,’ a couple years ago he played really well here,” Johnston said. “I thought in training camp he came in with the attitude, ‘I’m going to be here this year.’ I thought he played well in training camp. He’s been great in practice. A real energy guy in the room.
“So it’s good to see he sort of rewarded himself tonight with a real good first outing, giving us some confidence in him because we haven’t watched him play very much. Saw him play once in Wilkes last year and that was it other than training camp. It’s a real good start for him.”
The Detroit, Michigan native settled in with 11 saves in the first period before fighting off 18 shots in the second and stealing the show with 23 saves in the third.
“After the first period I felt a lot more comfortable,” Zatkoff said. “I felt like I settled in. Things were going a little faster in the first. We came out with the tie and won it from there.”
Even with an impressive performance, Zatkoff couldn’t take all the credit.
“The penalty killers did a great job,” Zatkoff said. “Guys blocking shots at big times, especially there at the end.”
Perhaps the save of the game actually belongs to forward Phil Kessel.
In the second period, Kessel got to a loose puck just waiting to cross the goal line behind Zatkoff.
“I was pretty relieved,” smiled Zatkoff, who skated straight to the bench as soon as he got the chance to thank Kessel for the assist. “I actually didn’t even see it on the goal line. I just saw (Phil) pull something out. I got a bounce there.”