Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff didn't have many lows during last season's all-star campaign, but the few that he did experience occurred in Wilkes-Barre.
Two, in fact.
Both times that the Manchester Monarchs faced the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Mohegun Sun Arena last season, Zatkoff was pulled early.
The first time was on Jan. 20 after he allowed three goals on seven shots. On Feb. 23, Zatkoff allowed six goals through two periods before exiting early.
So what did Zatkoff do to overcome the problems that the Penguins gave him at home?
He joined them.
"I think I got pulled three times last year, and twice was here," Zatkoff said. "I figured I'd better sign here so I don't get yanked anymore."
Kidding aside, Zatkoff joins the Penguins after posting his third stellar campaign with Manchester, one that earned him an invite to last season's all-star game.
During his first three seasons in the AHL - all with Manchester, the former third round pick of the Los Angeles Kings hasn't been very consistent.
That's because he's gotten better every year.
Last season Zatkoff set career highs with 21 wins, a 2.49 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. In all three seasons with Manchester, Zatkoff's goals against average never went above 2.92 and his save percentage never fell lower than .911.
Despite the upward trend in his development, the 25-year-old never got an NHL look from a Kings team anchored in net by Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.
"Unfortunately I didn't get that opportunity to show what I can do up there, and I just thought it was best to move on to a new organization," Zatkoff said. "I'm excited for a fresh start."
Still, Zatkoff is coming to a Pittsburgh organization that is flaunting some goaltending depth of its own. The parent Penguins are set with Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, while the AHL Pens have proven netminder Brad Thiessen.
Zatkoff said he isn't afraid of a little healthy competition in goal.
"You only have two spots and when you get to this level everybody can play. When I'm in net I'm trying to help the team win, and the same goes for Brad," he said. "I'm sure we'll have a healthy competition. That's just something that comes with being in this league."
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes admitted that there will be a training camp goaltender competition between Thiessen and Zatkoff, and both players will get an equal opportunity to show their stuff in the preseason games. Whichever netminder plays the best will start the season, Hynes said.
"We know both guys can play at this level and they're motivated," he said. "We'll just let them compete and the best guy will play."
And there won't be any hard feelings between the two.
"Fortunately for me I've always gotten along with the other goalie," Zatkoff said. "That helps a lot because you have someone who can relate to what you're going through."
At the age of 25, Zatkoff feels he is still young enough to establish himself with an organization and climb the depth chart as he develops.
And developing is something Zatkoff has proven he can do, dating back to his days with Miami University where his numbers also improved over the course of three seasons.
"The biggest thing for me is learning to read the game. The more games you play at a certain level, the game slows down for you," Zatkoff said.
But while the game slows down, Zatkoff hopes his development - and climb up the depth chart, continues to speed up.
The Penguins practice this morning at Coal Street is open to the public, while Wednesday's is closed. Also on Wednesday, the team will travel to Rochester to take on the Americans in their first exhibition game at 7:05 p.m. Rochester will then make the trip to Wilkes-Barre for a second matchup this Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.