Remember Jeff Zatkoff?

Dave Molinari 2 years ago

The Penguins' relatively light schedule through the first three weeks of the season has allowed coach Dan Bylsma to start No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in eight of nine games.

Fleury responded by winning the first seven of those, and had a good showing during a 1-0 loss to Colorado Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

However, the Penguins are about to enter a stretch of three games -- in three cities (and two countries) in four days -- so it's a pretty safe bet that backup Jeff Zatkoff will play in at least one of them.

The question is, will be it Friday at home against the New York Islanders, Saturday night in Toronto or Monday night in Raleigh, N.C.?

Bylsma hasn't said what will go into that decision, and Fleury's body of work against those teams probably won't have a major impact, because he's done well against all of them.

He is 18-7-4 against the Islanders (although he struggled against them in the playoffs this spring), 13-8-3 against the Leafs and 10-6-3 against Carolina, including a 5-2 victory at Consol Energy Center Oct. 8.

Whatever Bylsma decides, he is likely to hold his breath because Zatkoff was less-than-ordinary during his only NHL appearance to date, a 6-3 loss at Florida Oct 11 when he stopped 24 of 30 shots.

If Tomas Vokoun, who is out indefinitely (and possible forever) because of a blood clot that felled him during training camp, were around, Fleury's workload to this point probably would have been a bit lighter.

With him unavailable, though, there might be a temptation to Bylsma to start Fleury in virtually every game. Especially when Zatkoff is, at best, an unproven commodity.

Fleury probably wouldn't object to that, but this is when Bylsma has to be the adult in the room and look at the big picture, not simply whatever game is at hand.

Fleury's playoff problems the past few springs aside, he is going to be their go-to guy again when the games really count in five-plus months, and it would be a disservice to him -- and, more important, to the team -- to wear him down during the regular season.

Zatkoff has earned the right to prove whether he can be effective in this league and if management ultimately concludes that he can't, he should be replaced.

Giving Fleury's backup only a handful of starts over 82 games would be terribly short-sighted and could effectively undermine the Penguins' planned playoff drive long before it gets started.