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Maatta's confidence boosted with goals

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pens defenseman Olli Maatta watched the ice open up in front of him above the far circle and immediately jumped into the opening. 

With a quick over-the-shoulder head check by captain Sidney Crosby, he collected the puck in the near corner and made a perfect pass through a few opposing Nashville Predators onto the tape of Maatta.

The 23-year-old defenseman caught the puck and unleashed a wicked slap shot that slammed into the top corner of the net. Maatta flashed a wide smile as his tally would cap off Pittsburgh's 4-0 victory against Nashville in a rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final.

"I'm just trying to deliver it, get it on net when you get a chance," Maatta said after the game. "That's something some (the defensemen) have to do a better job of, our forwards do a great job of getting in front of the net."

Maatta has shown a scoring touch in the past. He posted nine goals and 29 points in his rookie season in 2013-14 at just 19 years old, while his 29 points ranked third among all rookie blueliners. However, Maatta totaled just eight goals over the next three seasons.

Maatta already has two goals in the first three games of the current campaign. He posted just one goal all of last season - though he was limited to just 55 games played due to injuries.

"He's shooting the puck well," Crosby said. "He's got a great shot and he's using it right now. When you see the puck go in like that, it builds confidence and you can see that. It's great to see that for him."

"We've always believed Olli has good offensive instincts," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He jumps into plays when he sees them. I believe his hockey IQ is his biggest asset. He sees the ice well. He's a cerebral player both offensively and defensively.

"I believe that by getting into the offense more he's showing that he's more confident. I think the fact that Olli has been really active off the offensive blue line is an indication that he's feeling pretty good about his game right now."

Feeling good about his game right is something Maatta hasn't really felt lately.

"I don't think the last few years I've played my best hockey," Maatta said. "I think I'm a lot better than I've been."

However, that sentiment is not shared by the team's coaching staff.

"I think Olli is hard on himself," Sullivan said. "Olli has been a really good player for us. All players go through their ups and downs. Olli is no different in that regard.

"What I love about Olli is his compete level and his ability to bounce back when he does have a game that he thinks he didn't play particularly well in. That's an important part of being a pro."

Maatta is definitely a pro in terms of his work ethic. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound defender always spends extra time in the gym and is typically the last player on the ice following practice.

"Just getting better every day," Maatta said of his mindset. "You can see guys like (Kris Letang), (Sidney Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin), how they work on their game every day. It doesn't matter that they are some of the better players in the league, they are always trying to get better."

Although he is only 23 years old, it feels like Maatta has been a Penguin forever. This will be his fifth season in the NHL, and he will continue to grow and improve as a player. 

He still has achieved a lot of success during his first couple of years in the league.

"When you look at his body of work over the last two year," Sullivan said, "he's a big part of this team winning Stanley Cups."

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