Makeshift Penguins' lineup clips Capitals, 4-3
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a goal, another Penguins star is out with an injury and the Washington Capitals held the lead on three occasions Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
It didn't Maatta.
Defenseman Olli Maatta capped one of the finest performances of his rookie season by scoring late in the third period to deliver the Penguins a 13th straight home win with a 4-3 victory over the Capitals. The 13 wins establish a franchise record for consecutive home victories.
Maatta and defensemen Kris Letang scored goals, giving the Penguins' blue line 25 goals through 48 games this season. Penguins defensemen scored 18 goals in 48 regular-season games last season, and they've put up their current total despite playing 19 games without Letang and 25 without Paul Martin.
The infusion of Maatta, however, has given the Penguins a unique dimension. And his offensive game appears to be expanding, though Crosby isn't surprised.
“I've seen it all the way through from him, honestly,” Crosby said. “He's just so confident.”
Never was that confidence on greater display — nor was it ever more necessary — than on two occasions against the Capitals. The Penguins were playing without star right wing James Neal, who is out with an upper-body injury, and with an array of players who are usually employed at the AHL level.
In a game that required firepower, Maatta delivered. His patience with the puck simply offered too much for the Capitals to control.
With the Penguins behind 2-1 in the second period, Maatta took the puck at the left point. He skated toward the left-wing wall, convincing the Capitals he was going to unleash a shot.
Instead, Maatta patiently skated close to the goal line before delivering a perfect pass to forward Taylor Pyatt, who buried a shot to tie the game.
“That play was something,” Pyatt said. “I haven't seen a pass like that ... it reminded me of when I played in Phoenix. (Coyotes defenseman) Oliver Ekman-Larsson made those kinds of plays.”
Maatta said after the game that he has been busy crafting his shot-faking and overall patience with the puck.
“I've been working on it,” he said. “That's something I really want to do on the blue line. It makes it harder to predict what I'm going to do and block my shots.”
When the Penguins needed another jolt of offense, Maatta struck with 1:54 remaining. He demanded the puck from a hard-charging Malkin, and Malkin obliged with a pass. Maatta faked a shot before quickly snapping the puck over goaltender Michal Neuvirth's right shoulder.
“I did tell him he was going to score (before the game),” said countryman Jussi Jokinen, whose goal with 8:25 remaining tied the game 3-3. “I should tell him that every game now.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has been delighted with Maatta from the first day of training camp.
“It was pretty impressive,” Bylsma said of Maatta's offensive poise and instincts. “It's just not something you see from a 19-year-old. That's one of the consistent themes. Olli, as a 19-year-old, making this team. It's been his consistency and his poise. He was out there for their second goal. Then, he comes right back.”
The same could be said of his team.
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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