Head coach Mike Johnston hasn’t shied away from adjusting his forward lines in-game, and on Wednesday night he did the same with his D pairs.
In the third period of Pittsburgh’s eventual 3-2 shootout win over Montreal, Johnston moved Olli Maatta up with Kris Letang. That mean Ian Cole, who had been partnered with Letang since the regular-season opener, moved down with Rob Scuderi.
“Originally when we started the season in training camp we had Maatta and Letang together for several training camp games, and we made the change (because) we just thought at that time Cole and Letang were a solid pair,” Johnston said.
“Much like juggling lines, I think you’re going to see defense pairs on our team switch around a little bit from game to game. You’re trying to get balance in your pairs. You’re not trying to generate more offense on one pair than another. We’re mainly looking for balance is what we’re looking for in our three groups.”
Because Maatta and Letang already had that familiarity with each other, it helped them adjust on the fly.
“We played a couple of times together last year and in preseason we had some shifts together,” Maatta said. “So I think we have a little bit of chemistry together. We felt good.”
While Maatta and Letang will likely continue to play together over the weekend, Johnston cautioned that they might be separated from time to time depending on the situation.
“You might not see Olli with Kris all the time (Friday) night (vs. Columbus) or on Saturday (in New Jersey),” Johnston said. “It might be 15, 16 minutes a game plus Olli’s power play or penalty kill, whatever he gets in those sequences. Because Kris plays more minutes than any of our defense, he’s going to play with different pairs and in different situations depending on how many power plays there are in a game.”
That comeback win against Montreal is a huge confidence boost for the Pens for a number of reasons.
- After having their worst second period of the season, where they registered just one shot
on goal and let the Canadiens score twice to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, the Pens regrouped during the intermission and came out with a tremendous third. Johnston went into the locker room earlier than he usually did to address the team so the players could talk it out after he left.
“Between the periods we kind of assessed the little frustration that we had, whether it was the other team or our referee or whatever happened and (agreed that) sticking to our game plan, just focusing on our own game, was the most important thing,” Letang said.
- That’s exactly what the Pens did, which is easier said than done. Especially against the Canadiens, who are the NHL’s best team. One of the biggest reasons for their success is
their strong defensive play. They're a structured team that doesn't give up a lot, especially when they’re protecting a lead in the third. Factor in that the Pens hadn’t won a game when trailing after two periods since Jan. 5, 2014, and the team had a tremendous challenge ahead of them.
- Not only that – the Pens had two golden opportunities on the power play late in regulation and in overtime that they couldn’t convert and they hit a couple of posts as well. But they didn’t lose focus. They stuck with it and eventually got it done in the shootout.
“I think you need those games to build confidence and trust in the way you need to do it,” Crosby told me. “Until you actually kind of go through games like that and kind of get rewarded for it, I think it’s hard to really see what that looks like.
“I think knowing what that took, it didn’t come two minutes into the third. It came 15 minutes into it after some good chances and we just stuck with it. So I think just understanding it wasn’t this pretty passing play, it wasn’t anything special. It was just solid plays all the way through and finding a way to get that next one.”
FACES ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE
A couple of Pens players sustained nicks on the Picassos in the game against Montreal.
Maatta spoke to the media this morning with a badly swollen lip that he suffered when somebody flipped a puck that got him in the face.
“It happened pretty quick,” said Maatta, who missed a few minutes of the second period while getting checked out in the locker room by the trainers after the play. “It’s something that happens. Just part of the game, I guess.”
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury sported a cut under his eye that required a few stitches. He received it with less than five minutes left in the first period when Ben Lovejoy’s stick got him through the mask as he battled with Devante Smith-Pelly.
Fleury immediately headed down to the locker room to get checked out and Jeff Zatkoff put on his helmet and went into the game.
“I was just worried for a sec because I felt my eye going down,” Fleury said. “My dad lost an eye with a stick, so I was a little worried. But it was good. I could see fine.”
Fleury returned shortly after and went back into the game with 2:38 left to play in the frame, and Johnston confirmed there were no lingering effects today.
“’Flower’ is fine,” Johnston said. “He looked good there in practice today.”
Johnston also gave credit to Zatkoff for handling a tough situation.
“’Zats’ did a good job,” Johnston said. “He had three or four shots and one of them was a tough save for a guy coming just off the bench and not ready to go in the game.”
Johnston said that his netminders will split the Pens’ upcoming back-to-back set, but did not say who would start which game.
Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cullen were the only players missing from Pens practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and Johnston confirmed the two of them had maintenance days.
“A little bit under the weather, so took a maintenance day,” Johnston said.