Late in the evening December 16th, news broke from an interview that Tomas Vokoun completed with a Czech-based newspaper about his future in the NHL.
To say the least, the sound bites seem to spell the end of Vokoun’s stellar, if not contentious, run in the NHL. Despite that, the Penguins do not seem to find themselves in a goaltending quagmire that many predicted when news of Vokoun’s blood clotting issue first came to light.
For many, Vokoun will go down as a good goalie who couldn’t quite break through into the elite ranks. Those who believe that are not the people of Pittsburgh and fans of the Penguins. Although his time in Pittsburgh has been brief you don’t need to convince anyone who watched him play here that Vokoun was a great calming influence for the team, a presence in the locker room, and perhaps the central cog in the team’s push into the Eastern Conference Finals last year.Those intangibles are not going to be replaced on this team anytime soon. But now is not really time for a moratorium on Vokoun. If and when he makes an official announcement about his future as a hockey player, his legacy will write its own stories.
What is under consideration here is the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury and current backup Jeff Zatkoff.
Marc-Andre Fleury Proving Critics Wrong
Fleury is on pace for a career year in wins, shutouts, and GAA. Although he still seems a long shot to crack Team Canada’s final Olympic roster (and that’s not a bad thing) he also seems to be playing with more of the promised confidence associated with his decision to seek counseling from a sports psychologist over the offseason. Although the occassional embarrassing goal will still get through Flower, perhaps the most encouraging sign for him is that he seems much more capable of shaking off the jitters that have often plagued his game in the wake of bad goals.
So far Fleury has carried a huge weight appearing in 32 of 39 games this season. In many ways the best thing that could happen for MAF would be to not go to the Olympics, to have nearly 3 full weeks of downtime to freshen up for the homestretch of the regular season and what certainly should be a deep playoff run for the Penguins.
Jeff Zatkoff Showing He Belongs
Perhaps even more impressive than Fleury’s great play has been that of Zatkoff, who was recently rewarded with a new 2-year contract extension, likely an acknowledgment of Vokoun’s pending retirement, but more importantly recognition of his quality play at the NHL level. Looking at Zatkoff’s pedestrian, 6-2-0, .912 SV%, and 2.56 GAA, stat line does not tell the entire story. His career couldn’t have started worse, and the poor results from his first 2 starts are still undercutting his more recent success. Since those first two contests, Zatkoff has won 6 consecutive decisions and has posted a pretty elite .944 save percentage and 1.56 GAA. It might not be fair to say that Zatkoff is ever going to be an elite everyday goaltender, but it seems almost criminal that the Penguins have only given Zatkoff 8 appearances in 39 games.
Early in the season many were ready to press the panic button on Zatkoff’s ability to adequately backup Marc-Andre Fleury, going so far as to say that the Penguins would NEED to make a trade for a veteran backup if not immediately, than at least closer to the NHL’s trade deadline. Given Zatkoff’s confident play in net, the least of the Penguins’ worries will be how their goaltending stacks up.
At least that is, until we get to the playoffs.
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