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Penguins notebook: Team considers giving Maatta a breather

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

NEWARK, N.J. — The Penguins are aware that 19-year-old defenseman Olli Maatta never has dealt with this kind of workload.

And it sounds like they're coming close to giving the superb rookie a break.

Maatta, so steady during his rookie season, has struggled mightily in his past three games. He was on the ice for a highlight reel goal in Columbus on Sunday, was out of position for a goal in Raleigh last week and endured a rough night — along with the rest of the team — in Ottawa on Dec. 23.

The Penguins could give Maatta a rest, both physically and mentally, by not dressing him against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Or they could throw him back into the fire.

“All those things are considerations,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “His play maybe hasn't been as strong in the past couple (of games). When his play is good, he's been worked with and coached and looked at video. That's certainly going to happen during this stretch as well.”

Simon Despres, who has played well during the past month, was a healthy scratch against Columbus on Sunday and could return to the lineup, should the coaching staff decide to rest Maatta.

“Now we're progressing to having a full set of defensemen,” Bylsma said, alluding to his blue line slowly becoming healthy with Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi back in the lineup.

Solving Newark

The Penguins are 2-0 against the Devils this season at Consol Energy Center and 0-1 at the Prudential Center. This isn't a surprising trend.

After all, the Penguins are 2-9-1 in New Jersey under Bylsma.

Why?

“It's a tough thing to pinpoint,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “They have a good team, first of all. But they just play slow, slow, slow. They're so patient, and they always play well defensively against us.”

The Penguins invariably say the same things when they're in New Jersey, that scoring the first goal of the game is important and that equaling the Devils' patience could be beneficial.

Doing those things and saying them, of course, are two different things.

“We've had some tough games here,” center Sidney Crosby said. “We're finding ways to win games right now, and we just want to continue that.”

Geno questionable

It appears unlikely center Evgeni Malkin will play against the Devils. He again participated in practice, but the workout lacked any relative physicality.

Bylsma has said Malkin must prove that his lower body injury can withstand some form of physical work before he is able to play. Malkin was injured Dec. 14 in Detroit.

Bylsma said there is no change to Malkin's timetable. The center remained on the ice for additional work with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar after practice Monday.

Letang improving

Defenseman Kris Letang, battling an infected elbow, skated on his own in Pittsburgh with no problems Monday. He is expected to rejoin the Penguins for practice starting on Thursday in Pittsburgh. There was no update given on other injured Penguins players.

Neal honored

Right wing James Neal was named the NHL's No. 3 Star of the week. He scored an overtime goal Dec. 27 at Carolina and produced three goals and two assists in Columbus on Sunday.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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