Good evening, hockey fans.
I feel bad. Jeff Zatkoff played the best game of his NHL career tonight, and I hardly mentioned it in my game story because of Evgeni Malkin’s brilliance.
If you missed the game, you missed a virtuoso Malkin performance. The center produced a goal, three assists and was simply magnificent all game. He now trails Sidney Crosby by a single point for the NHL scoring lead. Unreal stuff.
But let’s giving Zatkoff some credit, too.
The Penguins did not play a good game tonight. In fact, they were out-shot by the lowly Panthers by a 40-22 margin, which must be one of the worst shot deficits of the Dan Bylsma era.
And honestly, I’d estimate about 15 of those shots were legitimately good scoring opportunities for the Cats.
But it didn’t matter, because Zatkoff was that good.
And really, he’s been good.
For all that people want to rip the kid and demand the Penguins locate a veteran backup, should Tomas Vokoun be unable to play again this season, may I remind you that Zatkoff is now 4-2.
And that he’s won four straight game.
And that he’s looked pretty good in doing so, literally looking more and more comfortable in each outing.
I’m not saying Zatkoff is going to be a longtime NHL goalie, but I’m not saying he isn’t. This was a far different goaltender than the one we saw last month, in Florida, making his NHL debut.
The Penguins didn’t play well that night, and they weren’t a whole lot better tonight.
But the real Evgeni Malkin showed up. And perhaps the real Jeff Zatkoff did, too.
Couple of other things from tonight:
= Tomas Vokoun met with the media, and that article will be posted shortly on the Trib’s website. Basically, he doesn’t know whether or not he will play hockey again because of his blood clot issues. Give it a read. You’ll sense a very conflicted man, one who wants to play hockey again but who will always put his family first. He’s truly one of the likeable men in sports, and I’d love to see him play again. More than anything, however, I hope he lives a long, happy life. He deserves it.
= Seriously, Malkin is on a different planet right now. Dude is unstoppable, that slump very much a thing of the past. He didn’t score goals like he should have early in the season, and that remains indisputable. What also is indisputable is that he has been the team’s best player during the past two weeks. You know, the team that employs Sidney Crosby. These two are going to battle for the scoring title this year, and it’s going to be fun to watch.
= Good to see Joe Vitale notch his first goal of the season. He isn’t the league’s most talented player, but few guys work harder than Vitale. Night in, night out, the guy busts his tail and has become a very good fourth liner. Nice to see him get rewarded.
= Simon Despres, anyone? Yeah, I’m impressed, too. Nice outing for him, a third straight one, in fact. All the Penguins do is win when he’s in the lineup. Hard to deny.
= Malkin was good tonight, he even won eight of 12 faceoffs.
= Let’s give Dan Bylsma some credit. Of the 22 players on the current roster, six were pegged to begin the season in Wilkes-Barre. And yet the Penguins have a seven-point lead in their division. That isn’t the sign of a poorly coached team.