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Penguins notebook: Refreshed Maatta happy to have break from action

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Sunday, March 30, 2014, 8:09 p.m.

Olli Maatta said a day off was what he needed.

The 19-year-old rookie defenseman was given the day off Friday in Columbus, which was followed by Saturday's off day for the Penguins.

He was in bright spirits after staying away from the ice for two days.

“It helped a lot,” he said before Sunday's game. “I haven't had many days off since Christmas. I really feel fresh, physically and mentally. I feel hungry again. I'm excited to get back out there.”

Maatta was back in the lineup Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Coach Dan Bylsma made it clear after the Penguins' 2-1 win against Columbus on Friday that Maatta was a scratch because the team felt he needed a rest and not because management was disappointed with Maatta's play.

Still, there had been a noticeable decline in the rookie's play the past two weeks. He is a minus-4 since the Olympic break, which didn't serve as a break for Maatta. He played seven games in 11 days for Team Finland before immediately resuming his duties with the Penguins.

“And his minutes have been higher in the second half of the season,” Bylsma said.

The Penguins also made Maatta a healthy scratch Dec. 31 in New Jersey. He responded with some of his finest play of the season.

“I've got to get back to my game: playing simple making easy passes,” Maatta said.

Maatta said the coaching staff approached him about taking a day off and that he never would have made such a request. Still, he was pleased the coaches gave him Friday off.

“Sometimes when you watch the game from up top, you see different things,” he said. “You actually have more time than you think you have. When you see it up top, it's really good for you.”

• Center Joe Vitale skated before Sunday's morning skate but his return to the lineup is not imminent. Bylsma said Vitale is considered “week-to-week” with a “mid-body” injury.

• The Blackhawks played without two of their most important forwards against the Penguins. Forwards Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell were out. Kane is out until the playoffs. Bickell is day-to-day.

• Defenseman Simon Despres was a healthy scratch against the Blackhawks.

— Josh Yohe

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