Zatkoff more comfortable with NHL game - 12-17-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

October didn't go the way Jeff Zatkoff would have liked. Sure, making the NHL roster out of training camp in the wake of Tomas Vokoun's illness was a blessing for Zatkoff but after getting blasted for six goals in a 6-4 loss at Florida, Oct. 11 and giving up four goals in a come-from ahead 4-3 loss to the Islanders Oct. 25, plenty of amateur general managers began scouring for potential backup goaltenders.

Once the calendar flipped to Novemer, Zatkoff's fortunes changed. Beginning with his first career win and shutout in a 3-0 defeat of the Blue Jackets, Nov. 2, Zatkoff has won five consecutive games, compiled a .949 save percentage over that span and quieted much of the criticism levied his way.

Yesterday, Zatkoff discussed his recent success:

What has worked for you the past month which didn't work as well at the start of the season?

"I think it’s just getting more comfortable with the game [at the NHL level], with the speed and just kind of the systems. I don’t know if that first month didn’t work as it was a bad first game. The second game, I thought I played well. We had some breakdowns and they capitalized at the end. I think we’ve played a great game defensively. Even if we’re giving up shots, we’re not giving up too many scoring chances which is the big thing."

Where is your confidence right now compared to the first handful of starts?

"I think it’s obviously higher. Just getting that first win out of the way takes a huge weight off your shoulders. It allows you to just go in and play. I’ve always believed in myself, even after that first game. Things happen. That’s what hockey is. Obviously, the more you can win the more momentum you can build and that’s good for the confidence."

Saturday, Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall scored a goal which glanced off Sidney Crosby's stick and took a strange hop off the ice. Do you just have to shrug that off as a fluky goal?

"That’s going to happen. Exactly what you said. It think you just kind of laugh it off. There’s still 50 minutes left of hockey at that point. You just reset, refocus and play like it’s a 0-0 game. That’s what I try to do. Just block that one out. You can’t change the past. Just worry about the next shot."

With the team struggling with injuries and a suspension on defense, is there a bigger emphasis on yourself and Marc-Andre Fleury to carry this team?

"That’s one of the jobs of a goalie. We’re fortunate enough to have so much depth on the back end. [Brian Dumoulin] playing his first game [Saturday] with us going down to five [defensemen] and how well he played. He played like he’d been in the league for a while. You can’t do too much as a goalie. Just make sure you can control your rebounds and give the team a chance to win. And [Fleury] has been obviously doing really well at that. He’s had a great start. I don’t think so much as to change. You don’t need to put that extra pressure on yourself. Guys are here. They’re here for a reason and they’re going to do their jobs."

There were already questions in place about you before your NHL debut and they were amplified when you lost that game. Do you just have to tune criticism from media and fans out?

"Exactly. Especially the way it started. Everyone’s going to have their opinions one way or another. That’s their right. If you get caught up in what people are saying in the media, you’re going to eat yourself alive instead of just worrying about your game and controlling what you can control. I can’t control what people think about me. All I can control is how I play."

Have there been any technical adjustments to your game with goaltending coach Mike Bales?

"No, not really. We’ve just been able to talk over a lot of plays and adjust to the plays. Everyone is going to have their own technique. I’m not going to play the same way as [Fleury]. That’s what makes [Bales] so great. We each have our own style and he works to perfect that as opposed to molding us into the same kind of goalie. It’s worked. We’ve go a great relationship and he’s a big part of the reason both of us have had success this year."

(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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