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Post-Practice Update: The Not Dark (Yet) Goaltending Situation.

A quick update off the first Group practice on this Sunday…

 

= Coach Dan Bylsma said he did not expect to have any new information about the status of goalie Tomas Vokoun “for the next two days.” Vokoun is out indefinitely after surgery to dissolve a blood clot on Saturday.

His agent, Allan Walsh, sent word late Saturday via Twitter that Vokoun was in good spirits.

Josh Yohe’s report on Vokoun: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/4747359-74/vokoun-penguins-shero#axzz2fdUqbrBL

 

= Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is practicing twice on Sunday. The Penguins play their fifth of six exhibition games on Monday night – at home against Chicago – and Fleury said he would like to play one more full game before the regular season opens.

The Penguins wrap their exhibition-season schedule at Detroit on Wednesday.

The Penguins will look to Fleury, the anointed No. 1 even though he was benched in the 2013 playoffs, to steady the ship with Vokoun out of commission. Bylsma acknowledged that the plan for Fleury would be altered by Vokoun’s injury IF AHL journeyman Jeff Zatkoff were the No. 2 goalie when the regular season begins. (More on that in the next note.)

Fleury on possibly playing more with Vokoun out:

“(Bylsma) knows where I stand. I like to play. I’m in good shape. If they need me for more (starts), for whatever reason, I’ll be ready.”

 

= Zatkoff, who has never appeared in an NHL regular-season game, has spent the last five seasons in the AHL – and he worked extensively with new Penguins goalie coach Mike Bales during the 2013-14 campaign with AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Bylsma said part of his evaluation of Zatkoff – and comfort with Zatkoff – would stem from the insight provided by Bales.

Zatkoff, for his part, said what was expected on Sunday; specifically, that he has been waiting for an opportunity such as the one, that he feels comfortable with the development of his game.

Nobody within the organization is ready to commit – publicly or privately – to Zatkoff being the No. 2 behind Fleury, at least for a lengthy period of time.

There are some proven goalies available, some with the mental makeup and backup experience to be an ideal fit for the Penguins.

Somebody like, say, this guy:

http://espn.go.com/nhl/player/_/id/1142/johan-hedberg

Speculate away, but know that general manager Ray Shero is exploring his options.

 

= What are his options?

Well, notable is that Zatkoff must clear waivers to be on the roster by the regular-season set date (Sept. 30). That is not anticipated to be a problem.

Also, the Penguins already had to get under the NHL’s $64.3 million salary cap, so signing a veteran goalie would make that even more of a challenge.

The Penguins have the option of clearing a chunk of, but not full, cap space by moving one of their players on one-way contracts. Carolina still has a portion of winger Jussi Jokinen’s salary on its cap after trading him to the Penguins last season.

An NHL club can retain salary on three contracts and up to 15 percent of the cap ($9.6 million).

Unclear is management’s feeling on that kind of move ­– especially with the possibility that a season-long absence by Vokoun would provide an opportunity for a cap space-saving long-term injury (LTI) designation.

Still, this situation is not ideal and could significantly change the outlook for the Penguins.

Fleury, the NHL’s leader in regular-season wins over the last four years, is capable of handling a heavy workload. However, he infamously was ground down – mentally, at least – by playing too much late in the 2011-12 season. The Penguins did not have a backup goalie to trust then, and the reason Vokoun was acquired was, in part, so that Fleury’s appearances could be better managed.

Now, coming off a career-worst postseason, and not seeming super confident, Fleury is looking at a bigger workload than anticipated to start a season in which the spotlight will be squarely on him.

Given the lack of organizational NHL-tested depth at the goalie position (beyond Fleury and Vokoun), the cap situation and the Fleury dynamic in general, a strong argument could be made that the Penguins received their worst possible news Saturday.

This is a story that could grow bigger by the day in October, but that is all up to Fleury.

 

= Finally, Bylsma said Sunday that the roster would be mostly set – with an exception of 3 to 4 players for injury insurance purposes – by the time the Penguins begin their bonding trip at the U.S. Military Academy on Thursday.

 

Be Excellent to each other,

Rossi

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

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