The numbers didn’t look too promising for Jeff Zatkoff in his first two NHL games.
He made up for them by putting up a zero in his third.
Deryk Engelland, Chris Kunitz and Jussi Jokinen scored and Zatkoff made 19 saves in his first NHL win to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past Columbus 3-0 Saturday night for their fourth victory in a row and second over the Blue Jackets in just over 24 hours.
”I’ve been waiting for a month now,” Zatkoff said of his 0-2 record with a 5.06 goals-against average and a .818 save percentage. ”It feels like a little weight’s off my shoulders. It’s nice to be able to contribute to the team in the win column.”
The 26-year-old rookie made several big stops but wasn’t very busy as the Blue Jackets squeezed off a season-low in shots. Zatkoff is backing up Marc-Andre Fleury while Tomas Vokoun recovers from preseason surgery.
”Jeff’s best numbers haven’t been obviously in the National Hockey League,” coach Dan Bylsma said. ”He’s been a solid guy. His numbers (in the minors) are outstanding. Tonight I thought there wasn’t a ton of work at times in the game for him. But he looked comfortable and really solid.”
Engelland scored on a rapid-fire one-timer to stake Zatkoff to a lead in the second period before Kunitz picked up his eighth when a shot went in off a Blue Jacket’s stick in the third. Jokinen added an empty-netter.
All anyone could talk about was Zatkoff’s shutout and the way the defense played in front of him.
”You could see the way the guys were blocking shots and stuff, really taking it upon themselves to play good defense for him,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. ”And he made the saves that he had to. We’re really happy for him.”
A crowd of 18,634, including thousands of Penguins fans, cheered wildly when it was announced during the first period that Columbus will host the 2015 NHL All-Star weekend.
Perhaps Zatkoff’s best save came when he blocked Dalton Prout’s hard shot from close range at 8:32 of the third period that would have cut the margin to a goal. It did not appear that Zatkoff knew he was sitting on the puck in the crease.
Kunitz made it 2-0 just 47 seconds into the third period on a fluky goal.
Before taking a hard check from defenseman Jack Johnson at the right end of the goal line, Kunitz swept the puck toward the goal — where there were no teammates. But it ricocheted off the stick of trailing Columbus winger Blake Comeau and found the net.
Curtis McElhinney, getting his second start for the Blue Jackets, looked to the rafters in exasperation.
The game marked the second night in a row that the teams had met. In Pittsburgh on Friday night, the Penguins manhandled the Blue Jackets 4-2 as Fleury was staked to a 4-0 lead and made it stand up with 37 saves. Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie last year, was pulled in favor of McElhinney after giving up three goals on 13 shots.
After a scoreless first period Saturday night, the Penguins scored at the 6:46 mark of the second.
Joe Vitale won a puck battle against two Blue Jackets along the wall, then skated to the right corner and saucered a centering pass to Engelland, who unloaded a one-timer from the lower right circle. McElhinney, who stopped 23 other shots, had no chance of stopping it.
”Joe just put it right in the wheelhouse,” Engelland said of his second goal of the season. ”I wasn’t picking a corner or anything, but it found its way in.”
The loss, which touched off a four-game homestand, was the third in a row for Columbus after winning three straight.
”(The Penguins) were skating and seemed to have more desperation and urgency in their game,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said, comparing the second meeting with the one a night earlier.
Even as the game progressed, Zatkoff said he tried not to even think about the possibility of a shutout for his first win.
”I tried to block that out and go with the process,” he said. ”It sounds kind of cheesy but I was worrying about every shot and trying not to look at the scoreboard.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Blue Jackets director of hockey operations John Davidson appeared on the arena monitors over center ice during a first-period break to announce that the 2015 All-Star Game weekend was coming to Columbus.
The 2013 event was supposed to be held at Nationwide Arena, but that was canceled by the lockout.
NOTES: The Penguins play home-and-home games on back-to-back nights three times this season; this was the only such pairing all season for the Blue Jackets. … Pittsburgh had not played in Columbus since a 7-2 victory on Dec. 4, 2010, victory. … The Blue Jackets had several points streaks end: James Wisniewski (5), Nick Foligno (3) and Ryan Johansen (3). … Crosby, leading the NHL in points with 22 coming in, assisted on Jokinen’s empty-netter to give him at least a point in 13 of the Penguins’ 15 games. They are 11-2 when he scores, 0-2 when he doesn’t.