Pens Win 6th Straight; Maatta's Exceptional Play Is Turning Heads

With ten regulars missing from the lineup…

Forget it; the Pittsburgh Penguins are not just overcoming injuries anymore. They aren’t just kids filling in for starters and coming away with a victory here and there. They are a deep team, a talented team, a team that is playing like they should.

With a 5-2 victory on home ice against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, the Pittsburgh Penguins firmly move into first place in the Eastern Conference. They are just two points behind league leading Chicago.

They have won six straight games, 11 of their past 12, and nine straight at home.

The team’s goals against average over the past 12 games is a miniscule 1.83, while at the same time posting a 3.75 goals for average.

Sidney Crosby is now on a nine game point streak that has seen him register six goals and nine assists.

Chris Kunitz was credited with two goals against Minnesota, pushing his season total 20 (second among Canadian skaters Mr. Yzerman). Pascal Dupuis was credited with two assists as he continues to bust out of his slump. Duper now has 19 points on the season.

Olli Maatta has exploded onto the scene once given top pairing minutes. The 19 year old rookie has 3 goals and 8 assists on the season, with his last goal coming via a shorthanded penalty shot. With the goal Maatta becomes just the second Penguin defenseman to score via a penalty shot.

Whether it be a penalty shot, a penalty kill, a power play, five on five, or just hockey, there is a good chance Olli Maatta has been able to excel at it.

Maatta has now recorded a TOI over 20 minutes for the fourth straight games while registering 2 goals, 2 assists, and a plus 5 rating. The rookie has been averaging four minutes per game shorthanded during this streak as well, numbers that when combined make for a very good Calder trophy resume.

Maatta has not done this alone though, veteran defender Matt Niskanen has been a rock. He played almost 30 minutes four games ago in Detroit, then followed up that performance with 25 minute performance, 29 minute performance again in NYC, and then a 24 minute performance against the Wild at home on Thursday.

Not too shabby for a throw in with James Neal.

Speaking of James Neal, the enigmatic winger returned from suspension on Thursday. Neal contributed an assist as well as a fight, but was limited to less than 15 minutes of ice time.

Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero have been working with Neal quite a bit on his media relations and on ice behavior, but only time will tell whether or not things are sinking in.

*Pittsburgh continues to use Sill, Vitale, Adams, and Zolnierczyk as play breakers. Their speed, grit, and antagonistic demeanor has been crucial to Pittsburgh controlling play while at even strength.

*Joe Vitale has rapidly climbed up Pittsburgh’s resign list with his play this season. Although lacking in production, his speed allows him to play on any line in a pinch, and his physical presence opens up the ice nicely for the star players.

*Jeff Zatkoff wins his sixth straight game. The Pens back up is really coming into his own, now sporting a 2.46 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

*Tomas Vokoun has yet to hint at a return; although, it is likely he stays sidelined the rest of the season and retires according to interviews with a Czech Newspaper.

*Sidney Crosby has a 5 point lead over second place Patrick Kane in the scoring race. Both players have played 37 games this season. Crosby is starting to regularly put together multi-point efforts together, one should expect to see him improve upon his lead over the next two weeks.

*Finally, Rob Scuderi and Tanner Glass are both within a week of returning from injury. Scuderi (broken ankle) Glass (broken hand)

Also, please welcome Joey, the new Penguins writer. I fresh perspective and alternative style to mine should perk up the Penguins section here at TCL. We hope to build something enjoyable and informative here for all to enjoy.