The team announced Thursday that defenseman Olli Maatta is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with an upper body injury he suffered on Tuesday against Minnesota when he was checked into the Wild’s bench.
It’s yet another bad break for the young blueliner, who had just been rounding back into form following a 2014-15 season where he played just 20 games after dealing with a shoulder injury, a cancerous tumor and the mumps.
“It’s unfortunate. I wish it didn’t happen,” Brian Dumoulin said. “We’ve talked to him. Obviously it’s not something that you want to see with the amount of injuries he’s had. He’s been playing really well this year. But he’s a tough kid and he works really hard so I’m sure he’ll be back sooner than they say.”
While his teammates hate to see Maatta going through this, they’re relieved the outcome wasn’t worse.
“It was an ugly play and to kind of come out with that result I think is a lot better than I think anyone expected,” captain Sidney Crosby said of Maatta, who went to the hospital after being helped off the ice and remained there overnight for observation. “I’ve talked to him and I think he feels the same way. I think he was pretty scared when he went in and it’s a scary play, but the result could have been much worse.”
ADJUSTING IN MAATTA’S ABSENCE The Pens called up David Warsofsky from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with Maatta out, but head coach Mike Johnston said he will not play tonight against Colorado.
Instead, Rob Scuderi will slot back in after sitting out the last game due to illness and Adam Clendening will play his second straight game after dressing for just one of the previous 17.
Johnston liked what he saw from Clendening in that game (the 22-year-old picked up an assist on Evgeni Malkin’s game-winner on Tuesday, starting the play with a stretch pass to Phil Kessel) and is looking forward to seeing more.
“I thought Clendening played well the other night for not having played in a little while,” Johnston said. “So it will give us a chance to really get to see Adam play some games. I liked his puck movement out of our zones. He’s a smart heady player, makes good first passes. That’s always important with a group of defense and he has the ability to jump up and really support the rush.”
Over the first couple months of the season, Clendening did what he could to stay ready for the opportunity he’s getting now.
“All the top-end players that we have here, practicing with and against them every day obviously helped and kept me in game shape being out of the lineup for a while,” Clendening said. “The skates I’ve done after and the work I’ve done after with the coaches and some of the guys definitely helped and I thought it went pretty smooth with the first game back.”
It looks like he will play with Ian Cole, Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy will stay together and Kris Letang will be paired with Scuderi.
“At times when you’re putting D pairs together you’re trying to get some balance,” Johnston explained. “And Rob Scuderi, he’s known for his defensive play and Kris is known for his offensive play. The other factor that goes into it is Dumoulin and Lovejoy have played together for a series of games and we like that pair. It was a decision to put Rob there as a bit of an anchor to solidify that pair and then Kris has a chance to jump up and create knowing he’s got a safety valve there.”
FORWARD LINES After missing Tuesday’s game against Minnesota with an undisclosed injury, Nick Bonino will return tonight against Colorado.
“Looking forward to getting back tonight,” Bonino said. “I still have to talk to the coaches but I felt good and we’ll see what we want to do.”
Daniel Sprong did not do rushes and stayed on the ice for extra work following morning skate, so it looks like he could be the one scratched tonight. Here were the lines the Pens used…
BATTLE OF COLE HARBOUR When a few of us Pens staffers visited Crosby in his hometown during the offseason to cover his first-ever hockey school, we got a chance to spend time with fellow Cole Harbour native and first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon as well.
The 20-year-old forward is having a tremendous start to the season following a sophomore slump, where he had just 14 goals after winning the Calder Trophy his rookie year. He currently leads the Avs and is tied for seventh in NHL scoring with 20 points (8G-12A).
"When you get your confidence up and you start playing well, you see pucks going in early," MacKinnon told me. "I think it's tough when you don't get off to a good start. I had a very bad start last season and it kind of drags through a little bit if you can't snap out of it. This year it's been good from the hop and we've been playing better lately, we've won three of four. I think that everybody's kind of chipping in and it's been fun so far this year."
While Crosby and MacKinnon are close friends – they hung out together last night and train together in the summers when they’re both home – the Pens captain joked they’ll be setting that aside once they take the ice.
“He’s obviously having a good start, so it’ll be fun to play against him,” Crosby said. “I’m happy for him that he’s doing well. And when you go out there, you’re competing against one another and he probably understands that more than anybody. I don’t think he’s expecting an easy night, that’s for sure (laughs). We’re out there to compete and kind of put the friendship aside and go out there and try to win the game.”
GAME INFO Where: CONSOL Energy Center When: 7 p.m. TV: ROOT Sports Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop