Olli Maatta puzzle frames difficult summer decisions Penguins must make | TribLIVE.com

Olli Maatta puzzle frames difficult summer decisions Penguins must make

Jonathan Bombulie
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) go for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla.

There are plenty of questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins as they consider how to retool their roster after a disappointing 2018-19 season.

Here’s a big one: Did the Penguins struggle in transition because their defense corps lacked the speed and skill to get the puck to the forwards effectively or did they struggle because their forwards didn’t provide the support that the defensemen needed to succeed?

A quick survey of social media and the blogosphere shows that many Penguins fans are fully convinced the defensemen are the problem, which is a perfectly reasonable position to hold. Two of the newest additions to the team’s blue line, Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson, don’t exactly fit the puck-moving mold the Penguins used to rekindle their championship era in 2016.

Those dead set on fixing blame on the defense should probably take a look at the curious case of Olli Maatta first, though.

Maatta, by all accounts, had a mediocre season, but his numbers vary wildly based on which center he shared the ice with.

When he played with beleaguered Derick Brassard at five on five, the Penguins were outscored, 8-3.

When he was on the ice with Evgeni Malkin, goal-scoring was pretty much a 50-50 proposition. The Penguins were outscored, 11-10.

When he was on the ice with Sidney Crosby, however, the Penguins blitzed their opponents to the tune of 20-3.

The same defenseman. Three completely different sets of results.

Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to puck luck. The team’s shooting percentage (15.3) and save percentage (.964) were very high when Maatta and Crosby were on the ice together.

But not all of it.

The reality is that playing with a great center who is on top of his game can make an average defenseman look great in a small sample. On the flip side, playing with an unskilled defenseman who is not in good form can ground even the highest-flying forward.

It’s that interlocking maze of credit and blame that must be untangled as best as possible before the Penguins decide how to proceed. It’s why finding a fix to their problems is more complicated than just dumping a couple of unpopular defensemen.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all offseason long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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