Right before the Penguins stepped onto the ice for warmups prior to Wednesday’s game against Washington at CONSOL Energy Center, Jussi Jokinen turned to Olli Maatta and made a prediction.
“I feel you’re going to score tonight,” Jokinen told the rookie defenseman.
We should probably have Jokinen pick the numbers on our next lottery tickets, as he turned out to be right. Maatta scored the game-winning goal with 1:54 remaining in regulation to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Capitals, their 13th straight win at CONSOL Energy Center – which is a new franchise record.
“I think I’ll have to tell him that before every game,” Jokinen smiled. “He played a really good game for us.”
Maatta joked he was glad his countryman didn’t end up jinxing him, saying, “He's a good person. He wouldn't do that. He told me before the game that it's about time to score a goal, so I think I did.”
Maatta’s goal and assist on Taylor Pyatt’s second-period goal were the result of a pair of gorgeous shot-fakes. On his late winner, Maatta received a pass from Evgeni Malkin on the point – who had circled the entire zone before dropping it back – and sent Capitals forward Joel Ward flying in the wrong direction as he pretended to shoot before sprinting to open space and letting it rip.
On the assist, Jokinen sent a diagonal drop pass to Maatta on the far blue line – who proceeded to carry it into the zone and execute a perfect shot-fake to send Caps forward Tom Wilson sprawling before he calmly stepped around him. Maatta then fed a wide-open Pyatt the puck, which he one-timed into the top corner of the net.
The tremendous displays of patience and vision by Maatta looked like they were coming from a player much older than his 19 years of age.
"I have not seen that from a 19-year-old," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was pretty impressive tonight. You don't see a 19-year-old defenseman play with this kind of poise and composure."
"I've been working on (the shot fakes),” Maatta said. “It's something I really want to be on a blueline. It makes it harder to predict what I'm going to do there and block the shots."
Maatta wasn’t the only Finnish-born player to have a fantastic game, as Jokinen scored the tying goal in addition to his assist.
"He (Jokinen) was feeling it tonight,” Maatta said of his Finnish Olympic teammate. “You know he's a really dangerous player when he's feeling it. He's really good skater and he can see the ice well and make plays."
The two certainly combined to make it quite a Finnish.
Kris Letang rounded out the scoring for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves to extend his league-leading win total to 27. Fleury is now 11-2 in his last 13 starts and 31-3 in his last 34 home decisions.
HOME SWEET HOME
With the victory against the Capitals, the Penguins extended their home winning streak to 13 games – setting a new franchise record. Over the span of 785 minutes during the streak, the Pens have held the lead for 491:21 minutes and trailed for only 94:59, and have outscored opponents by a 53-30 margin in regulation.
“We said this morning whenever you get a winning streak or record like this it’s done with some pretty good teams and players,” Bylsma said. “To get to 12th and now 13th to have the record it’s pretty substantial number of wins at home.
“Our building is a tough place to play.”
Taylor Pyatt’s approach to playing on a line with Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin? Get around the net as much as possible.
Pyatt did just that and it paid off, as he netted his first goal of the season and first as a Penguin when he one-timed a perfect pass from Maatta from the top of the crease.
“It was a great opportunity for me to play with a great player in Malkin and Jussi Jokinen on the other wing,” said Pyatt, who played his sixth game with the Penguins since being claimed off waivers from the New York Rangers. “I just tried to play hard, play my game and try to get around the net as much as possible. It felt good to contribute.”
And not only was it a big goal for Pyatt personally; it was a big one for the team, as he scored it with just 3:52 minutes remaining in the second period to send Pittsburgh to the intermission tied 2-2 with Washington instead of down 2-1.
“Whenever you score, it always feels pretty good,” Pyatt said, who has benefitted from a lot of practice time over this stretch of one game in eight days. “It feels like you’ve had a strong game. It was a chance to get a lot of time, I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable with our system and what we’re doing out there.
“It’s a pretty special feeling when you haven’t scored a goal in this league in quite a while. To come to a team and score a goal is a good feeling and we’re just going to continue to build off it and win some games.”
Going to the blue paint resulted in not only his goal, but Maatta’s as well. Pyatt planted his big body in front of Neuvirth, which screened him and allowed Maatta’s shot to sail past him before he could even react.
“He was really good,” Jokinen said of Pyatt. “It was probably his best game for us. He’s a big body that skates well. He was able to make some space for me and ‘Geno.’ Got one goal and a huge screen on the last goal. He was really good.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo