PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta will return to the lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday after being a healthy scratch Friday.
Maatta, a 19-year-old rookie, did not play against the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing in 72 of Pittsburgh's first 73 games of the season. His production has decreased in recent weeks and he has been a minus in six of his past 12 games.
"Obviously, you want to play every game. You don't want to take games off," Maatta said. "But I feel like it was good for me. It's been a long season. It's been a lot of games. It's been a really new situation for me.
"I've never played this many games in my life."
Maatta has 28 points and nine goals in 72 games this season.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi took Maatta's place alongside defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday while defensemen Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres formed Pittsburgh's third defensive pair. Maatta will reestablish his pairing with Niskanen against Chicago, but apparently will not resume his recent role on the first power-play unit.
Maatta worked on Pittsburgh's second unit during its Sunday morning skate, while forwards Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz, as well as Niskanen, made up the first.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said forward Bryan Bickell (upper body) is close to returning, but will not play Sunday. Chicago is targeting its game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday for Bickell's return.
Goaltender Corey Crawford will start for the Blackhawks and will snap Pittsburgh's streak of facing five consecutive backup goaltenders.
"We were certainly comfortable with [Crawford] going into this season knowing that he was going to get the majority of the work load," Quenneville said. "He'll be the guy. I don't think goaltending has been that big of an issue for us this season."
Here are the expected lineups for the Penguins and Blackhawks:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Lee Stempniak
Beau Bennett – Jussi Jokinen – James Neal
Taylor Pyatt – Brandon Sutter – Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass – Craig Adams – Jayson Megna
Brooks Orpik – Robert Bortuzzo
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland – Rob Scuderi
Injured: Evgeni Malkin (foot), Kris Letang (stroke), Marcel Goc (foot), Paul Martin (broken hand), Joe Vitale (upper body), Chris Conner (broken foot), Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Tomas Vokoun (pelvis)
Scratched: Simon Despres
Kris Versteeg – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp – Michal Handzus – Andrew Shaw
Brandon Saad – Peter Regin – Matt Carey
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Sheldon Brookbank
Injured: Patrick Kane (lower body), Bryan Bickell (upper body), Michal Rozsival (lower body), Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body/shoulder)
Scratched: Jeremy Morin, Teuvo Teravainen, David Rundblad