Olli Maatta was heading back toward the Penguins locker room Saturday afternoon after his postgame ritual -- putting on some dry clothes -- when he was stopped by Penguins Hall of Famer and owner Mario Lemieux.
The smile on the rookie defenseman's face after a congratulatory handshake from Lemieux said more than Maatta did a couple of minutes later when he was asked about his first NHL goal, which came in the third period of a 4-3 shootout win against Vancouver at Consol Energy Center.
Maatta drove to the net, got the rebound of a Chris Kunitz shot and pushed the puck past Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo to give the Penguins the tying goal just 22 seconds after Vancouver had taken a 3-2 lead.
"It was a good play, a three-on-two, by Sid [Crosby] and [Kunitz], and I just tapped it in," Maatta said. "When you have a three-on-two, you are just trying to [join] the rush. That's part of being a defenseman."
Crosby, who passed cross-rink to Kunitz, didn't hesitate to count on Maatta, 19.
"I expected him to drive through [to the net]," Crosby said. "That opened up space for [Kunitz] to get that pass, and then ultimately for [Maatta] to drive the net and get the rebound for his first goal."
Maatta hit the crossbar on a similar play in the first period.
"This was a big point in the game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We got a great play off the wall by Sid and turned it into an odd-man situation by [Maatta] jumping into the play. Fortunately for us, he gets the second chance at going to the net and gets the huge goal for us."
Maatta already had the puck from his first NHL assist -- he had two of those over his first seven games before Saturday -- and said he got the puck from the goal.
"It's always fun to see guys score their first goal," Crosby said.
"That never gets old. The joy and seeing how happy he was was pretty cool. Obviously, it was a big goal for us, too."
Injured Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and wingers Beau Bennett and Matt D'Agostini skated in the morning but remained out of the lineup.
"Don't have a definitive answer on any of them," Bylsma said of their return.
Letang, who has not played this season because of a knee injury, might be the closest to returning. He has been practicing.
"Kris is progressing and getting closer," Bylsma said.
For Bennett, who missed his third game in a row with an unspecified injury, it was his first time skating in gear.
D'Agostini, who has an unspecified injury, is practicing but not eligible to return until later in the month because he is on long-term injured reserve.
He was vying for the right-wing spot on the third line in camp before he got hurt.
"I still see him in competition for that," Bylsma said.
Right winger James Neal is out long-term with an unspecified injury.
Talk about tough schedule ...
NHL realignment that kicked in this season calls for interconference play to include a game in every city for every team. One thought is that it might equalize some travel between the Eastern and Western Conference.
"I'm not sure 'equalized' is the proper word there when you look at our schedule," said Vancouver coach John Tortorella, formerly the New York Rangers coach.
The Canucks were playing the third game of a seven-game, 11-day trip. Even with visits to every Western Conference city, the Penguins' longest stretch of road games is five in a row in March, but they will come home once or twice between games.
"Coming from New York and going to Vancouver, we have a tough schedule," Tortorella said. "We have focused from the summertime when we got it in July until now as far as just trying to understand recovery -- try and give them as much recovery as you can."
Winger Chris Conner, recalled Friday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, played right wing on the Penguins' third line. He replaced Harry Zolnierczyk in the lineup. Deryk Engellend, usually a defenseman, played right wing on the fourth line for the second game in a row. ... The Penguins' other healthy scratch was forward Dustin Jeffrey. ...The Penguins are 40-15-7 in day games under Bylsma, including 10-1 in their past 11 and 10-1 in their past 11 at home. ... The Penguins signed forward Matia Marcantuoni to a three-year entry-level contract.penguins
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM