Penguins notebook: Rivalry with Bruins has reached next level



BOSTON -- OK, so perhaps these games hadn't been infused with quite the same passion -- translation: raw hatred -- as the ones between the Penguins and Philadelphia.

At least they weren't until Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton assaulted Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik midway through the opening period Saturday night at TD Garden, causing Orpik to be carried off the ice on a stretcher.

And they don't carry the historical cachet of those the Bruins play against Montreal.

Nonetheless, there has been a pretty fair rivalry developing between the Penguins and Bruins, even before Thornton knocked Orpik to the ice, then punched him in the head several times to earn a match penalty.

It began to truly percolate in the spring, when the Bruins ran the Penguins out of the playoffs in four games, and some highly competitive games so far in 2013-14 have further stoked it.

"It's definitely gained some traction after last year," Orpik said after the game-day skate. "I don't think you really have a true rivalry until you face someone in the playoffs, and obviously one team is ending the other team's season."

The Penguins and Bruins are in a cluster of teams vying for the top spot in the East Conference, and that raises the stakes any time they meet.

"The rivalry is there," Bruins winger Daniel Paille said. "Montreal is obviously a historic rivalry, but Pittsburgh, with [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin and their whole lineup, they have a group where you want to play your best."

As do the Penguins when facing the likes of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

"I'd definitely put it right up there," defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "It seems to be always close games and a battle from start to finish.

"I would definitely say there's a little bit of hate between the teams. It's a good battle every game, and a lot of fun out there."

It was, anyway, until Orpik had to be carried off the ice.

Maatta of discussion

The Penguins apparently still haven't decided whether to loan rookie defenseman Olli Maatta to Finland for the world junior championships, which begin Dec. 26 in Sweden.

Coach Dan Bylsma said he did not know the deadline for making such a decision, but didn't sound as if having Maatta go is a front-burner option.

"Would it be beneficial?" Bylsma said. "I don't know, from a development standpoint, if it's more beneficial than playing in the National Hockey League for Olli.

"If international competition would be beneficial to his development, I'm hoping for one a little later in the year for Olli -- to play in the Olympics."

Maatta, 19, has dressed for each of the first 31 games and, before facing the Bruins, had one goal and five assists and was averaging 16 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time. That included nearly 1:30 of special-teams work per game.

"Olli continues to play above his age," Bylsma said.

Showing Wey the way

Washington defenseman Patrick Wey, a native of Mt. Lebanon, made his NHL debut Saturday night when the Capitals faced Nashville.

Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski grew up there, as well, and said he would try to reach Wey before the game to wish him well.

His advice for Wey, with whom he said he works out in the offseason, was pretty basic.

"I'm sure he'll be a little nervous at the start but honestly, the best thing he can do is just keep it simple and play [his] game," Bartkowski said.

Bartkowski played his first NHL game against his hometown team, the Penguins -- "That was an eye-opener," he said, laughing -- and, for a while, seemed to get much of his work at this level against them.

But despite being a healthy scratch a couple of times late in November, Bartkowski has maintained a pretty steady presence in the Boston lineup in recent weeks.

"This year," he said, "I get to play against other teams, too."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.

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