John Perrotto / The Sports Exchange, Published December 19 2013
Penguins extend home winning streak to 10 against WildPITTSBURGH – Olli Maatta is 19 years old and looks closer to 12.
No wonder the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie’s knees were shaking as he prepared to take the first penalty shot of his fledgling NHL career.
“I was nervous,” Maatta said.
However, he became the first Penguins defenseman to score on a penalty shot since 1968, and he added two assists to spark a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Pittsburgh posted its season-high sixth consecutive victory.
After the Wild cut a 4-0 deficit to 4-2, Maatta ended any hope of a comeback by converting his penalty shot with 12 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.
Maatta beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom between the pads for his third goal of the season after being taken down by defenseman Jonas Brodin on a short-handed breakaway. Maatta joined former defenseman George Konik in the Penguins’ history book.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do when I started skating toward the net,” Maatta said with a smile. “I saw an opening and I shot it. It wasn’t pretty. It kind of trickled past him, but it was good enough.”
The Penguins (26-10-1) won their 10th game in a row at the Consol Energy Center. They are 16-3-0 at home this season, and they have 31 wins in their past 36 home games, dating to last season.
Maatta came up big on a night when the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins were missing five of their top defenseman. Deryk Engelland served the third game of a five-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Detroit Red Wings left winger Justin Abdelkader, while Kris Letang (upper body), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg) and Brooks Orpik (concussion) are on injured reserve.
“That’s a strong game by Olli against a really big team,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s been cast into a much bigger role the last three or four games, and he’s really done well.”
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed his third consecutive game with a left leg injury, and he likely won’t return until Dec. 23 for a game against the Senators in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, left winger James Neal returned to the Penguins’ lineup after serving a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston Bruins left winger Brad Marchand. Neal registered one assist.
Backstrom started for the Wild (20-12-5), and gave up five goals on 36 shots one day after starter Josh Harding was placed injured reserve in order to have time to adjust the medication used to treat his multiple sclerosis. Harding will miss at least three games and is tentatively scheduled to return Dec. 27 for a road game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Backstrom is 2-6-2 this season, while Harding is 18-5-3.
“We stunk tonight. It’s not all on (Backstrom). That’s not the only story of the game,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not going to say that he was nearly good enough, but you know what, there was 19 other guys that were wearing Wild uniforms tonight that weren’t either.”
The Penguins also started their No. 2 goalie, rookie Jeff Zatkoff, and he made 24 saves. Marc-Andre Fluery, whose 20 wins lead the NHL, got the night off.
“I think what you’re seeing is the depth of the organization and how well they’ve drafted at every position,” Zatkoff said.
Minnesota 0 1 1— 2
Pittsburgh 1 3 1— 5
First Period—1, Pittsburgh, Dupuis 7 (Crosby, Maatta) 0:49.
Second Period—2, Pittsburgh, Sutter 8 (Maatta, Vitale) 1:54. 3, Pittsburgh, Niskanen 2 (Jokinen, Neal) 3:33 (pp). 4, Pittsburgh, Kunitz 19 (Crosby, Niskanen) 10:43. 5, Minnesota, Pominville 16 (Niederreiter, Suter) 11:20.
Third Period—6, Minnesota, Heatley 7 (Coyle, Ballard) 3:13. 7, Pittsburgh, Maatta 3 (unassisted) 7:54 (sh).
Shots on Goal—Minnesota 9-7-10—26. Pittsburgh 13-16-7—36.
Power-play opportunities—Minnesota 0 of 5. Pittsburgh 1 of 4.
Goalies—Minnesota Backstrom 2-6-2 (36 shots-31 saves). Pittsburgh Zatkoff 6-2-0 (26-24).
A—18,623 (18,387). T—2:33.