PENGUINS (26-10-1) vs. FLAMES (13-16-6)
WHEN: December 21, 2013 - 1:00 p.m. | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
Last 10: Calgary 5-3-2; Pittsburgh 9-1-0
Season series: This is the first of two games between the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins. They haven't played each other since Oct. 8, 2011, when a power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin proved decisive for Pittsburgh in a 5-3 victory in Calgary.
Big story: As injuries and a suspension have decimated the Penguins on defense, rookie Olli Maatta continues to step up his game. The 19-year-old became the first rookie defenseman since 1942 (Bob Goldham, Toronto Maple Leafs) to score on a penalty shot in a 5-2 win Thursday against the Minnesota Wild. Maatta has two of his three goals and four of his 11 points in the Penguins' past four games.
"In the last 15 games (his role has) gotten bigger," coach Dan Bylsma said. "The last five games it's gone to a point where he’s been the top pair and getting the top minutes on the back end with (Matt) Niskanen.
"He's getting (Pavel) Datsyuk, getting (Brad) Richard and (Rick) Nash and (Zach) Parise. That's a tall order. The confidence and steadiness, consistency with which he's played has been the best in the last three, four games."
Flames: This is the finale of a five-game road trip for Calgary, which gets to play its next five games back at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames have points in four of five (2-1-2) since a front-office shakeup, but they've now lost three in a row following consecutive overtime wins.
Two points were ripe for the taking Thursday against a Detroit Red Wings team having all sorts of issues winning at home. Mikael Backlund and Mark Giordano each scored to wipe out one-goal deficits for the Flames, but a hooking penalty on TJ Brodie late in regulation led to Daniel Alfredsson's power-play goal 1:03 into overtime and a 3-2 defeat.
"They were coming down the stretch and I think they understood the importance of the opportunity of a tight game like that," forward Mike Cammalleri said of the Red Wings in the Calgary Sun. "And we need a little bit more of that. We need to understand that and find that hunger and that desperation when we have a chance to win a tight game."
Penguins: Hunger hasn't been an issue for Pittsburgh, which is pulling away in the Metropolitan Division despite starting to eerily resemble the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team from the start of the season. As the Penguins keep dipping into their American Hockey League reserves, the rookies and veterans alike continue to get the job done.
A pair of goals by Chris Kunitz and the game-winning power-play goal by Niskanen highlighted their sound win against the Wild. It was a first-year player, backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who earned his sixth win in eight appearances with 24 saves.
"We're not as skilled as we usually are, when everyone's healthy, but the new guys coming in, everybody competes really hard," Niskanen said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "What maybe we lack in high-end skill, we make up for with a lot of compete level and battle."
Who's hot: Backlund has two goals in the past three games for the Flames. … Kunitz has three goals in the past two games for the Penguins. Brandon Sutter has a goal in three straight games. Sidney Crosby has six goals and nine assists during a nine-game point streak.
Injury report: Calgary has defenseman Dennis Wideman (hand) on injured reserve. … Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin (lower body) has missed the past three games and is day-to-day. Forward Jayson Megna (lower body) is expected to miss six weeks. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg), Brooks Orpik (head) and Kris Letang (upper body) and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Tanner Glass (hand) and Andrew Ebbett (ankle) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Deryk Engelland is suspended.