Defenseman Olli Maatta participated in the team’s optional skate on Tuesday morning and will be a game-time decision for Game 6 against the Washington Capitals at CONSOL Energy Center.
“I feel like it’s been a good progression,” he said. “No setbacks, so it’s been good.”
The 21-year-old said he will be ready if he does get cleared to return.
“Definitely I want to be there,” Maatta said. “We don’t know yet, but if I’m ready to go, I’m definitely hungry to play.”
Maatta suffered an upper-body injury in Game 2 on a late, high hit from former teammate Brooks Orpik, who will be back tonight after serving a three-game suspension he got for the check.
“I’ve said it a couple times, I think it’s done and over with,” Maatta said of the play. “It happens. (I don’t want) to talk about that anymore. It’s all about hockey now. We have a big game ahead of us. That’s where the focus is right now.”
The only Pens missing from the optional session were forwards Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz and defenseman Kris Letang.
“LET’S EMBRACE THIS CHALLENGE”
While the Pens missed an opportunity to eliminate the Caps in Game 5 on Saturday in Washington, they still have the upper hand with a 3-2 series lead.
“As we said to our guys, let’s embrace this challenge,” head coach Mike Sullivan said with a smile. “Let’s have fun with it and let’s go out and play our best. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re excited to be a part of it. It’s terrific hockey and I think if you’re just a hockey enthusiast, you can’t help but be excited at this time of year.”
The guys are especially excited to have another chance to close out here at CONSOL Energy Center, just like they did in the First Round against the New York Rangers.
“It’s great playing in front of these fans,” center Nick Bonino said. “They’re loud, they’re excited. It’s fun to win in front of them as it was nice to close out last series at home. We’re hoping to do it again.”
Winger Carl Hagelin said being at home absolutely makes a difference.
“Always,” he said. “It’s always great to have your home crowd. They energize you and they really get the adrenaline pumping and that’s when you play your best games.”
When reflecting back on his experiences in elimination games, Hagelin said it will be important to open the scoring.
“I think obviously the first goal is key,” he said. “We’re going to try and get that tonight. I think in general, as a team we need to play our best game of the series. We know they’re going to bring their A-game so we have to match that.”
Despite coming off of a loss, the Pens are feeling confident about their play.
“I thought we did a lot of good things (in Game 5),” Crosby said. “It’s different if you go there and feel like you gave them the game, but I don’t think that was the case. We made a few mistakes. We definitely have to make sure we stay out of the box. But other than that, I thought we had some really good chances 5-on-5 and you just move on like any game.”
The biggest area the Pens need to improve, Bonino said, is special teams.
“I think we’re still not quite where we want to be,” he said. “Until the last game, it hadn’t hurt us. We’ve got to make it a little harder to them.”
After going 13-for-14 on the penalty kill in the first four games, the Pens allowed the Caps to convert two of three chances in their 3-1 win.
Defenseman Ian Cole, who’s averaging a team-high 3:36 shorthanded minutes per game these playoffs, told me the Pens talked about some things they can tweak this morning.
The biggest area of focus, he said, was discussing how to best transition into more of a passive, shot-blocking situation when they’re tired after being stuck on the ice for a minute or so and don’t have the energy to continue pressuring after a long shift while still taking Alex Ovechkin away.
“Because that’s really their main target,” Cole said of the Caps captain, who scored one power-play goal and set up the other in Game 5. “That’s where everything is generated, from him and then obviously across and shooting from the top. So the ability to kind of transition from more of a high-pressure go at them and take away space, to after a minute you’re tired and you’re not quite getting there, and then they place the seams. So we figured out how to best transition into that, and hopefully that’ll help us out.”
On the flip side, the Pens scored their first power-play goal of the series in Game 5 after going 0-for-14 in the first four games. While it was a boost to finally get one, they have to continue trending up in that part of the game.
“We scored once. It’s not bad,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “If we have a chance in the next game we will try to score, too. We have five guys, good guys. If we want to win like Washington (Saturday), they scored two goals, we will try to do the same at home.”