Penguins notebook: Maatta makes name for himself

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There has been some confusion about how to pronounce the name of Penguins rookie defenseman Olli Maatta.

He cleared that up Friday before a game against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.

It's OH-lee mah-tah. A "T" sound, not a "D" sound, and equal emphasis on both syllables of his last name.

"It's not the easiest," he said.

Figuring out how Maatta has earned a spot alongside Kris Letang in a pairing that calls for more minutes and more responsibility is easier.

"As he's gotten more comfortable and more reliable, more dependable, he's gotten a bump up in responsibility," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Playing with Kris Letang, he's getting [matched against] good players on other teams, top lines at times. He's been up to that task, especially the last two games, maybe three games, [which] have been his strongest games."

Maatta entered the game Friday with a goal and three assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-1.

He was averaging more than 16 minutes of ice time a game in the three games after he moved to Letang's pairing. He was under 16 minutes in 14 of the first 17 games.

"When you get more minutes, you get into the game more," Maatta said. "It's easier if you don't have to sit on the bench [as long]. There's more continuity. You don't have to think the game as much; it just comes automatically."

Maatta, 19, was comfortable with the NHL version of hockey and ready to take on more ice time and a bigger role.

"That's always the goal -- to play more minutes and to play better," he said. "With Kris it's been pretty easy to do my job. He's a good defenseman.

"He communicates a lot, so it's easier for me. He lets me know where to be. Even on the bench and the dressing room, we talk a lot about things."

One of the things that works for Maatta is being able to anticipate what Letang, a skilled defenseman, is going to do.

"I feel like he gives more time," Maatta said. "He fakes a pass and then gives it to me, and I have maybe half a second more time, which is big."

Olympic watch

Bylsma is doubling as the United States Olympic coach, meaning that during this NHL season he gets a chance to see several potential members of the American team that will be bound for the Sochi Games in February.

One of them is Islanders winger Kyle Okposo, who entered the game with six goals, 20 points in 22 games.

"Kyle is [among the players] that are on 'hard watches,' " Bylsma said. "Almost every night we have people live watching, and we're watching games on video scout.

"He's certainly right from the beginning of the year put himself on the map with the start that he had. Kyle's a guy who typically doesn't start the season the way he has. He's made himself someone we need to look at pretty much nightly."

Zatkoff evaluation

Even though the Penguins have not given backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff anything close to a steady amount of work -- his start against the Islanders was just his fourth of the season after going 1-2 -- they are willing to be patient.

In fact, they are nearly throwing out his season and NHL debut, a 6-3 loss Oct. 11 at Florida, in terms of evaluation.

"A lot of guys going into their first game are a little bit nervous and maybe have not gotten the result that they wanted," goalie coach Mike Bales said. "I think that was the case with Jeff.

"I sort of equate it sometimes to when you're going to be a parent. You can read all the books you want, see everything [about it] that you want, but until you have your own kid, you don't really know what it's like to be a parent."

Tip-ins

The Penguins reassigned forward Zach Sill to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Sill, 25, had no points in his season debut a week ago at New Jersey and was a healthy scratch in the ensuing two games. ... The healthy scratches against the Islanders were forward Matt D'Agostini and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. ... Letang is expected to play in his 400th career game tonight in his hometown of Montreal. ... Injured Penguins defenseman Chuck Kobasew (foot/ankle) skated before the team's game-day skate. Bylsma has said he expects Kobasew to return to practice soon.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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