By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Trust In Maatta
If there was any doubt left about the maturity of Olli Maatta the Olympic Games should have dispelled them. As one of only five Finnish defensemen in the NHL, it was a safe bet that Maatta would have to shoulder his fair share of the defensive responsibility in Sochi. The 19 year old came through with three goals and two assists while playing in the defense-friendly Finnish system. That Maatta was able to manage three goals in a low-scoring tournament shows that he doesn’t feel the need to defer to more veteran teammates. This will be a valuable trait for Maatta as he fills the void left by Kris Letang. Ray Shero made a big gamble on Maatta when he chose not to send him back to juniors at the beginning of the season. Now is the time for Maatta to pay back Shero for that trust.
Olympic Hangover and Rust
The Penguins had seven players representing their respective countries in Sochi, so there will be a good mix of rested and non-rested players when the Penguins pick up play tonight. For a guy like James Neal, who had only three goals in his last 10 games going into the break, the time off probably helped him clear his head of whatever was contributing his mini-slump. For guys like Rob Scuderi and Taylor Pyatt, it was a time to heal from injury as the team gets ready to embark on the last quarter of the season before the playoffs start.
For guys who did go to Sochi, it will be about picking up where they left off. Evgeni Malkin had 11 points in his last 10 games. Sidney Crosby had 10 points in 10 games. Jussi Jokinen had 8 points in 10 games. These guys will be carrying the Penguins down the stretch and it’s up to them to continue scoring. For Chris Kunitz, Crosby, Jokinen, and Maatta, they will have the motivation of adding a Stanley Cup to their Olympic success.
Coaches Have to Coach
For Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato, getting past the difficult defeat to Canada and the embarrassing loss to Finland is the key priority. Whatever happened against Finland, whether it was players not caring about bronze after losing out on gold or just getting outplayed by Finland, Bylsma and Granato have to worry about coaching the games ahead, not re-coaching the games in the past. The Penguins come out of the break with 83 points, third-most in the league, and have a five point gap between themselves and the second-place Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference. The Metropolitan Division is still weak with only two other teams, the Rangers and the Hurricanes, having a winning record in their last 10 games. Things are looking up for the Penguins if they can just remain focused and get past this latest rash of injuries.