After rough start, Penguins’ Olli Maatta gets up to speed in return from injury
In his return to the lineup after missing 21 games with a shoulder injury, defenseman Olli Maatta played 19 shifts for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
The last 18 went significantly better than the first one.
“I think it took a couple of shifts to get my head into it,” Maatta said. “After that, I felt OK.”
Seconds into his first game back, Maatta chased a dumped-in puck into the left-wing corner of the Penguins defensive zone. As defense partner Brian Dumoulin peeled toward the back of the net to make himself available for a pass, Maatta was swarmed by forechecking Nashville forwards Nick Bonino and Craig Smith.
They collected the puck and sent it to Matt Irwin for a shot from the left point. Smith bounced a tip past goalie Matt Murray from the slot.
“I definitely could have played it a little better,” Murray said. “I overshifted. (Smith) made a nice play. He came out of nowhere. He wasn’t even in the shot lane, but he managed to get a stick on it.”
Because Kris Letang remains out with an upper-body injury, the Penguins are playing with four left-handed defensemen in their top six. Paired with Maatta, Dumoulin is playing on an unfamiliar side of the ice with a new partner.
Might the first shift had gone better if the Penguins had a pair on the ice that wasn’t still working out the kinks? Maybe, but in general , coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t critical in his analysis of the pair immediately after the game.
“I thought Olli played pretty well for not having played in a while. He had some quality shots. He was pretty good on that second power play,” Sullivan said. “I thought Dumo was decent on that right side. It’s obviously an adjustment for him. It’s not ideal. Given the circumstance, we’re trying to figure those combinations out so we have three pairs that can help us.”
Early goal notwithstanding, Maatta’s return to the lineup went well. He played 15 minutes, 47 seconds, recorded five shots on goal and delivered three hits.
When he was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins had an 8-4 advantage in shots and a 16-11 edge in shot attempts.
He reported no physical problems afterwards.
“There’s a couple good battles down low,” he said. “After you realize it’s all good and you get in those game-like situations, you don’t think about it anymore.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .