As with any hockey player making his NHL debut, Pittsburgh goaltender Jeff Zatkoff had plenty of nerves when he stepped on the ice in Florida on Oct. 11.
After surrendering six goals on 30 shots in that game, some began to question the state of Pittsburgh’s goaltending behind starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
That didn’t bother Zatkoff one bit. Since that date, Zatkoff has won six of the seven games he has appeared in, playing outstanding between the pipes and earning himself a two-year contract extension, announced this morning by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.
“I didn’t start the way I wanted to,” Zatkoff told media this morning. “But, I knew what I was capable of and knew I had confidence in myself. Obviously, when you come in and don’t have a lot experience and your first game goes like that, people aren’t going to be happy.
“I always stayed confident in myself and worried about playing well. I knew eventually with more games and more experience, the more comfortable I would feel. And that is pretty much what happened.”
The deal begins with the 2014-15 season and runs through the 2015-16 campaign, and has an average annual value of $600,000.
Zatkoff, 26, stopped 24 shots against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night to become the first Penguins rookie goaltender to win six straight decisions since Johan Hedberg did so in 2001.
“He is a guy we believed could go in there and be a good backstop and be a guy we could count on,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “And he has been that in virtually every start since (the Florida game), including the game he lost to the Islanders. He has put together six wins in a row and shown he is confident getting in the net and making big saves and being tested. It is great for him.”
The 6-foot-2, 179-pound Zatkoff has posted a 6-2 record, 2.46 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in eight games this season. He became the first Pittsburgh goaltender to notch a shutout in his first win with the team when he turned aside 19 shots in a 3-0 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 2.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Zatkoff played last season for the Penguins’ top minor-league affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL). In his first year with the club, Zatkoff established career highs for games played (49), wins (26), goals-against average (1.93) and shutouts (5). He and Brad Thiessen combined to allow the fewest goals (178) in the AHL.
Zatkoff was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round (74th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft. He played three-plus seasons for the Kings’ minor-league team, the Manchester Monarchs, from 2009-12. In 146 career AHL games with Manchester and WBS, Zatkoff posted a 77-63-6 record, winning 20 games in three of his four full seasons.
“We talked about Jeff’s numbers and what he has done the past few years in the American Hockey League,” Bylsma said. “They are very good. He just didn’t have any NHL experience.”
Zatkoff will have a chance to build on the experience of his first eight games in Pittsburgh over the course of the next couple of years. He said the chance to win every single year and compete is exciting.
“I love it here,” Zatkoff said. “I love the city, love the organization. It is a great organization. I am just excited to be here for the next couple years.”