Penguins to rely on new guys during playoff run
From Bryan Trottier to Rick Tocchet to Bill Guerin, the Penguins' Cup clubs always needed the new guys.
Seven players to appear in a game last postseason are not part of this playoff puzzle for the Penguins. However, two defensemen — one fresh faced, the other familiar — and a deadline-acquisition winger are poised to make an impact in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
A late training-camp injury to defenseman Kris Letang provided Olli Maatta an opportunity to make this Penguins squad in September. He proved he belonged in the NHL over the next seven months.
Maatta, 19, established himself as one of the league's top rookies — and an all-time Penguins teenager; which is saying something considering that group includes Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby — by rarely looking his age. As injuries rocked the defense corps, Maatta coolly handled responsibilities normally reserved for players with a lot more experience.
The most tenured Penguin saw Maatta's emergence coming.
“That kid doesn't play like he's 19,” Brooks Orpik said in October.
Maatta did not play like he was 19 when the Penguins needed to use him on the top pairing in November or December. He did not play like he was 19 for bronze medalist Finland at the Winter Olympics in February.
The Olympics did not provide the surest indication that Maatta had the special stuff. That came in early January after he was a healthy scratch for the first time.
Penguins coaches rested him for a game at New Jersey because his performance had slightly slipped. Maatta arrived at the next practice about 30 minutes earlier than usual. He promised coaches his play would pick up.
The Penguins played the New York Rangers in their next game. Coaches graded Maatta as the best defensemen for that contest.
Acquired from Calgary only a few minutes before the trade deadline expired, Lee Stempniak brought necessary NHL experience to a team that needed it. Injuries had forced the Penguins to play younger or grinding wingers on captain Sidney Crosby's top line. Stempniak filled in well there upon his arrival, but his postseason assignment will be to bring some scoring to a third line that has lacked offensive punch.
Postseason hockey is about grit, determination and what feels like hand-to-hand combat. Rob Scuderi is built for the playoffs. As was the case on the Penguins' 2008-09 Cup Final runs — and in Los Angeles, where he won another Cup and last season played in a conference final — Scuderi makes his impact on the penalty kill and around his goalie's crease. Maybe even in it.
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