Fighting for playing time at the NHL level isn't anything new to Jeff Zatkoff.
While with the Kings organization, Zatkoff was stuck behind Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick and first-rounder Jonathan Bernier. After joining the Penguins in the 2012 offseason, Zatkoff was decidedly third on the depth chart behind all-stars Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun.
Things were expected to be status quo for Zatkoff until Tomas Vokoun was stricken with a blood clot during the preseason. As a result, Zatkoff became the team's No. 2 goaltender.
In the five months since that promotion, Zatkoff has appeared in 12 games, and earned a 9-2-1 record along with a 2.64 goals against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout. Additionally, he signed a two-year contract extension though the 2015-16 season.
Within the past week, Vokoun has been cleared to play and is working himself back into game-shape in order to reclaim the No. 2 job behind Fleury. While several members of the team are still returning from the Olympics in Sochi, all three goaltenders have been working out in Pittsburgh. During a four-on-four drill today at Consol Energy Center, all three rotated in and out of net.
Recently, Zatkoff talked about his status with the team:
Have you given thought about what Vokoun's potential return could mean to your status?
"Yeah. I’m not trying to think too far ahead. Obviously, Tomas is a great goalie. He’s played in the league for 17 years. He’s an NHL goalie. I’m just trying to go about my business and work hard every day and control what I can control."
What is your confidence as an NHLer like right now compared to the preseason?
"I think it’s night and day difference. Once you get those games under your belt … every game is a little more experience. I’ve felt more comfortable every game just with different situations that arise. From training camp to now, I don’t think it’s comparable. It’s nice to get that first one out of the way and get some games and try to improve on every start."
Have you kept it mind at all this season that Vokoun could return at some point this season and reclaim the No. 2 role?
"Yeah. I’ve tried not to look that far in advance. Everyone kind of knew the situation at the start. I was just trying to worry about my game and playing hard improving myself and competing and giving the team a chance to win when I was in there. Nothing changes for me even though he’s back skating. I’ve still got the same role, the same job right now."
If the team wanted to assign you to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, it would risk losing you through waivers. Is it at all reassuring in that waivers could deter management attempting to send you back to the AHL?
"I think waivers can obviously help in your advantage. Obviously, I don’t want to go on. I like it here in the city of Pittsburgh. Love the organization. I signed because I want to be here and stay in this organization. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen."
Have you ever been on a team where there were three active goaltenders?
"I have not. Obviously, in college you carry three goalies but it’s a different situation where on is there [specifically] to practice. I was the third goaltender when I went to Europe [for season-opening games with the Kings in 2011-12] but other than that, no."
Has your time in practice been limited with Vokoun working his way back?
"Yeah, but I don’t think it’s just mine. If you look, we have a three-way rotation. We’re trying to get three nets out there to start, at least to get everyone warm. We’re just trying to rotate evenly and see pucks. Anytime you have three goalies and two nets, you’re shots are going to be less. When you’re in the net, it makes your time that much more valuable. When there’s three guys, there’s only two nets. Someone is going to be sitting out."
(Photo: Vokoun-Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press; Vokoun-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)