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Penguins notebook: Maatta scratched for first time

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 2:36 p.m.
The Blue Jackets' Derek MacKenzie and Penguins' Olli Maatta fight for a loose puck during the second period Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Columbus, Ohio.

NEWARK, N.J. — The Penguins sat defenseman Olli Maatta for the first time all season Tuesday when he didn't dress against the New Jersey Devils.

This wasn't a shock, especially when considering that coach Dan Bylsma strongly hinted on Monday that sitting Maatta was a possibility.

The Penguins have been concerned for some time about Maatta's fatigue level and have desired resting him. However, because of the rash of injuries to the Penguins' blue line — Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi have missed significant time, and Deryk Engelland missed five games with a suspension — they haven't been able to give the 19-year-old a rest.

It finally happened on Tuesday.

Maatta has been a standout all season on the blue line, even playing on the top pairing with Matt Niskanen during a recent stretch in which the Penguins played without so many top defensemen.

The rookie has produced three goals, 12 points and is a plus-2 in 41 games this season.

Still no Geno

The Penguins brought Evgeni Malkin on their three-day, post-Christmas road trip to Raleigh, Columbus and New Jersey. Malkin could only play role of cheerleader during the trip, however.

Although the center continues to improve from a lower-body injury that was sustained in Detroit on Dec. 14, the Penguins haven't cleared him for game action.

Malkin still needs to absorb more physical contact in practice before the Penguins will allow him to participate in a game. Malkin was on a roll before the injury, having produced 31 points in his previous 19 games.

“Obviously, we're a better team with Geno in the lineup,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We've just got to keep finding ways to win without all the guys who are out of the lineup right now.”

Malkin skated Tuesday morning on his own before the Penguins took on the Devils.

Martin update

Defenseman Paul Martin, once believed a lock to make the United States Olympic roster, might not be healthy enough to participate in Sochi.

Martin, who sustained a broken leg in November, still hasn't been cleared to skate.

Bylsma said Martin has a meeting with physicians next week and, at that point, it will be decided it Martin is able to resume skating.

He presumably will be paired with defenseman Brooks Orpik, his regular defense partner, when he returns to the lineup.

“Paul's working out pretty heavily off the ice right now,” Bylsma said. “Hopefully early next week we'll move to getting him back on the ice.”

Banged up

Devils forward Patrik Elias left the game in the first period after sliding awkwardly into the boards following a hit from left wing Tanner Glass. It was hardly a violent collision, but Glass hit Elias enough that the forward lost his balance and appeared to land shoulder-first into the boards. He remained motionless on the ice for about a minute before slowly skating to the locker room.

Also, Penguins forward Joe Vitale was hurt on the game's first shift but did return.

Bruin's Thornton gives up on suspension appeal

Bruins forward Shawn Thornton decided he won't appeal his 15-game suspension with an independent arbitrator.

He was suspended for his attack on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik on Dec. 7.

Thornton said Tuesday he remains unhappy with the length of the suspension and has endured difficulty sleeping in recent nights.

“I'm not going to let this define me,” he said. “And I won't let this affect the way I do my job.”

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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