There is something far more important going on right now than just winning. Think forward to mid-April. Game 1 of a playoff series. The Penguins defense will look something like this:
The Niskanen/Maatta pairing is the highlight. There is no telling where things will go, but if the Pens can get that lineup, the special performances that Maatta and Niskanen are turning in now will mean everything come the playoffs. It is surreal that we didn't even mention how good Simon Despres has been, also. And Bortuzzo. So much depth. Samuelsson looks a little raw, but he doesn’t have that first-round pedigree and/or experience yet.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s relax and celebrate how good Olli Maatta has been. Bylsma said in his post-game presser that scouts, both internally with the Pens and the NHL in general, were saying Maatta was NHL-ready as far back as February 2013. The game against the Wild was just more affirmation of that. He's too good.
As for the Wild, what a surprisingly scumbag team. Keith Ballard, you like to hip check; we get it, bro.
Highlight of the night: Minnesota was 0 for 5 on the power play. Thanks, Mike Yeo!
The first minute was busy as shit. First shift of the game, Robert Bortuzzo welcomed Matt Cooke back to Pittsburgh. Awesome. Next shift, the Pens were up 1-0. Third straight home game the Penguins have scored in the first minute.
Pascal Dupuis got credit for it, but it got changed to Kunitz.
Matt Cooke looked like he knew a storm was coming.
Adams and Konopka fought, so that happened for a while.
Bortuzzo was everywhere. He had a golden chance on Backstrom, but he was greeted by a double pad stack.
Keith Ballard flipped Kobasew on a great hip check. That meant they had to fight. That went on for a bit, then the game started up again. Ballard was throwing out hip checks all night. It isn't the first time the Penguins have dealt with Ballard. He has always been a problem. Quick research shows he has fought against the Penguins a bunch of times.
What a dick.
Mikko Koivu hooked Crosby later. Pens PP. Nothing.
Young Money spent the rest of the period making everything easy for Zatkoff.
The Pens wanted a goal at the beginning of the second, and they got it. Sutter with a turnaround that got past Backstrom. 2-0.
Pens smelled blood right after that when they went on a PP. Niskanen delivered the kill shot on a one-timer. Bar down town. 3-0.
Every goal Niskanen scores, just remember it adds about $500k to his next contract. He is a pending free agent, and if the Pens let him walk, he is going to make unlimited money.
The Wild had a chance to get back into it right after that goal with two straight power plays, one of which came another bullshit goalie-interference penalty, this time on Crosby. The Pens killed off both of them.
Later, Ballard appeared again with another solid hip check. This time he got a penalty for clipping?
Neal took umbrage and they battled. Neal negated the upcoming Pens’ PP, but that didn’t matter because Crosby made this pass:
Crosby made a few just sick passes. He's totally locked in.
The Wild brought an end to the beat-off party with a quick goal right after. 4-1.
An old friend scored for Minnesota...
The next ten minutes or so were slow. Minnesota kind of made a push, but the Pens, again, just endured.
4-1 going into the third.
Another old friend scored against the Pens. Dany Heatley is still alive after all. He made it 4-2.
Things got dark. Maatta and Adams took penalties within four seconds of each other. The Wild would have 5-on-3. And Jeff Zatkoff would be tested. Three times.
ROOT Sports caught these three plays on the 5-on-3. All great chances by Zach Parise. Parise just screwed up the shot on the first one, but Zatkoff stood his ground on the final two:
It could have been 4-3. Instead, the Pens broke Minnesota’s back. Maatta’s penalty expired, and he emerged from the box and brought hell with him. At about the same time, Zach Sill got the puck and looked up. Sill fed a beauty of an area pass to Maatta.
Maatta on a breakaway. He got hooked.
Curtains for Mike Yeo and friends. The Penguins killed one more penalty late, and then the Wild took two.