Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma never hesitated when he made the decision to start goaltender Jeff Zatkoff Saturday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets in the second half of a back-to-back home-and-home showdown.
All Zatkoff did with his start was turn aside all 19 shots sent his way for his first career NHL win and shutout as the Penguins bested the Blue Jackets, 3-0, at Nationwide Arena for a weekend sweep.
“It’s exciting,” Zatkoff said. “I’ve been waiting for a month so it feels like a weight is off my shoulder. It’s nice to be able to contribute to the team in the win column.”
Even as the clock was winding down, Zatkoff was trying his best not to think about goose egg that was on the scoreboard.
“I just tried to block that out and go with process,” Zatkoff said. “It sounds kind of cheesy, but I was worrying about each shot and trying not to look at the score clock.”
While Zatkoff deserves much of the credit – particularly coming up with crucial saves on Brandon Dubinsky and Dalton Prout – the Penguins collective team defense may have played their best 60 minutes as a unit.
“Good effort individually and collectively as a group,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We really had that focus. Playing well defensively for Jeff. For him to get a shutout in his first one is a pretty cool moment. Guys played hard for him and he made big saves when he had to.”
The Penguins played a somewhat more passive, defensive-oriented game than they typically do. They were conservative in the neutral zone, had a defense-first mentality, took the proper positions, won every puck battle, blocked shots and collapsed around the goal.
The Penguins limited Columbus to just 19 and nearly cleared away every rebound chance. The Blue Jackets had almost no second opportunities.
“I thought we played a really smart road game,” Niskanen said. “When we had ice and room to make plays we didn’t just give up the puck. … We played a good structured game. We made it hard on them to generate anything offensively. It was a good team effort defensively.”
When the Penguins made Deryk Engelland transition from defenseman to forward, they did so to add some strength and muscle.
Engelland scored his second goal of the season with a beautiful one-timer blast from the circle to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the second period. The goal would hold for the game-winner.
“He’s looked pretty comfortable in those situations,” Bylsma said. ”It was off his stick as quick as it was on. He looked like a pure sniper putting that one home.”
Vitale had the puck below the goal line and found Engelland in the circle. Engelland’s highest career goal total is four, set in the 2011-12 season. He’s already halfway on that mark.
“(Vitale) put it right in the wheelhouse,” Engelland said. “I just shot it. I wasn’t picking a corner or anything. It found its way in.”
A LITTLE LUCK
The Penguins added on to their 1-0 lead with a little help from No. 14. And I’m not talking about Chris Kunitz – although he did help, too.
Kunitz retrieved a puck in the corner of the offensive zone and attempted a centering pass to a breaking Sidney Crosby. The puck went off the stick of Blue Jackets forward Blake Cuomo (No. 14) and into the goal 47 seconds into the second period.
Author: Sam Kasan