Penguins notebook: Olli Maatta sits among top scoring rookies
February 1, 2014 11:37 PM
The Penguins' Matt Niskanen (far right) and Olli Maata (3) celebrate a goal earlier this season.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's not an aspect of his game that the Penguins' Olli Maatta holds up and points to.
"I don't really take as much pride in my offensive game," he said. "I'm a defenseman. I try to not give up any scoring chances by the opposing team."
Yet this 19-year-old has thrust himself into some elite company.
Going into a game Saturday night against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena, Maatta was one of eight rookie defensemen in Penguins history to reach 20 points.
Maatta's 20 came on five goals, 15 assists. And while some of those points might have come on memorable plays -- such as his go-ahead goal Jan. 23 against the New York Islanders, when he cut in from the left circle and scored on a backhander -- he modestly figures most were of the more routine variety made possible by high-end teammates.
"Some of the points have definitely been breakout passes, just giving the puck to the forwards, getting the puck with speed so they can get up the ice with good speed," he said.
Maatta entered the Coyotes game tied with Alex Goligoski for seventh place for points by a Penguins rookie defenseman.
Zarley Zalapski ranks first. He had 45 points as a 20-year-old rookie in 1988-89. Behind him are Ryan Whitney (38, 2005-06), Doug Bodger (31, 1984-85), Jim Johnson (29, 1985-86), Paul Stanton (23, 1990-91) and Michal Rozsival (21, in 1999-00).
The only one on the list who was younger than Maatta as a rookie was Bodger, who was 18.
Olympic theme burns
For the fourth game in a row, the Penguins faced a goaltender who is headed to Sochi, Russia, this month for the Winter Olympics.
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith is part of Team Canada.
On Thursday night, the Penguins chased Los Angeles and American goalie Jonathan Quick in a 4-1 win. Monday, they bested Buffalo and American goalie Ryan Miller, 3-0. Those two apparently are the top contenders to be the No. 1 starters for Team USA, which will be coached by the Penguins' Dan Bylsma.
On Jan. 25, Dallas and Kari Lehtonen, who will represent Finland, shut out the Penguins, 3-0.
When the Penguins travel to NHL cities infrequently -- they had not played at Jobing.com Arena since Nov. 6, 2010, a 4-3 shootout win -- inevitably the host teams offer a nod toward Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who went into the game Saturday with a league-leading 76 points.
This stop was no different.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett: "He's competitive. He's a top-skilled player, but you watch his competitiveness in the game, he drives their team with work ethic."
Coyotes center Mike Ribiero: "It's hard to contain that guy. It's a team effort against those guys. ... I'm not going to sit here and talk about Sidney because everyone knows what he can do. He's the top player and he's a guy who competes hard and makes plays, but if your main focus is on him, there are a lot of guys who can hurt you."
Coyotes defenseman and former Penguins player Zbynek Michalek: "He just expects to be the best. He practices hard, and he plays hard. He's a skilled player, but he works hard. That's what makes him special. He leads by example on and off the ice, and everybody looks up to him. He's a great player, and a good person off the ice. That's one of the biggest reasons that team is playing so well."
As expected, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang missed his second game in a row because of an unspecified illness. There was no word on what his status might be for a home game Monday night against Ottawa. ... The Penguins held an optional game-day skate. Ten skaters and both goaltenders participated. ... In addition to Letang, the Penguins scratched defenseman/winger Deryk Engelland and winger Chuck Kobasew.
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