Rookie's penalty shot seals Penguins' win over Wild
By John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 2 Pittsburgh 5
PITTSBURGH -- Olli Maatta is 19 years old and looks closer to 12.
No wonder the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie's knees were shaking as he prepared to take the first penalty shot of his fledgling NHL career.
"I was nervous," Maatta said.
However, he became the first Penguins defenseman to score on a penalty shot since 1968, and he added two assists to spark a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Pittsburgh posted its season-high sixth consecutive victory.
After the Wild cut a 4-0 deficit to 4-2, Maatta ended any hope of a comeback by converting his penalty shot with 12:06 remaining.
Maatta beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom between the pads for his third goal of the season after being taken down by defenseman Jonas Brodin on a short-handed breakaway. Maatta joined former defenseman George Konik in the Penguins' history book.
"I didn't know what I was going to do when I started skating toward the net," Maatta said with a smile. "I saw an opening and I shot it. It wasn't pretty. It kind of trickled past him, but it was good enough."
The Penguins (26-10-1) won their 10th game in a row at the Consol Energy Center. They are 16-3-0 at home this season, and they have 31 wins in their past 36 home games, dating to last season.
Maatta came up big on a night when the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins were missing five of their top defenseman. Deryk Engelland served the third game of a five-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Detroit Red Wings left winger Justin Abdelkader, while Kris Letang (upper body), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg) and Brooks Orpik (concussion) are on injured reserve.
"That's a strong game by Olli against a really big team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's been cast into a much bigger role the last three or four games, and he's really done well."
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed his third consecutive game with a left leg injury, and he likely won't return until Dec. 23 for a game against the Senators in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, left winger James Neal returned to the Penguins' lineup after serving a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston Bruins left winger Brad Marchand. Neal registered one assist.
Backstrom started for the Wild (20-12-5), and gave up five goals on 36 shots one day after starter Josh Harding was placed injured reserve in order to have time to adjust the medication used to treat his multiple sclerosis. Harding will miss at least three games and is tentatively scheduled to return Dec. 27 for a road game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Backstrom is 2-6-2 this season, while Harding is 18-5-3.
"We stunk tonight, it's not all on (Backstrom). That's not the only story of the game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm not going to say that he was nearly good enough, but you know what, there was 19 other guys that were wearing Wild uniforms tonight that weren't either."
The Penguins also started their No. 2 goalie, rookie Jeff Zatkoff, and he made 24 saves. Marc-Andre Fluery, whose 20 wins lead the NHL, got the night off.
"I think what you're seeing is the depth of the organization and how well they've drafted at every position," Zatkoff said.
The Penguins scored just 49 seconds into the game when left winger Chris Kunitz knocked in a rebound during a scramble in front of the net.
In the second period, the Penguins extended their lead to 4-0 on goal by center Brandon Sutter (eighth), defenseman Matt Niskanen (second) and Kunitz (20th). Kunitz's second of the night came off a beautiful backhanded pass into the slot from center Sidney Crosby at 10:43.
The Wild got their first goal at 11:20 of the second when right winger Jason Pominville scored his 16th. Left winger Dany Heatley drew the Wild within 4-2 at 3:15 of the third period with his second goal.
The Wild got no closer, though, as their two-game winning streak ended. They won each of their previous six games at Pittsburgh, dating to Jan. 8, 2011.
"We were not ready to play this game hard, and that's something we're going to have to look in the mirror about," Yeo said.
NOTES: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Penguins RW Jayson Megna would miss at least six weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Monday night when he collided with Toronto Maple Leafs G Jonathan Bernier. ... Wild RW Matt Cooke made his return to Pittsburgh and received a loud ovation. He spent the previous five seasons with the Penguins before signing with the Wild as a free agent. He plans to make Pittsburgh his permanent home after he retires. ... There were two fights within the first five minutes of the game. Wild C Zenon Konopka squared off with Penguins RW Craig Adams, and Minnesota D Keith Ballard skirmished with Pittsburgh RW Chuck Kobasew. Ballard also brawled with LW James Neal in the second period. ... Wild RW Justin Fontaine, C Mike Rupp and D Nate Prosser were healthy scratches. ... Penguins C Brian Gibbons was scratched along with D Deryk Engelland and C Evgeni Malkin. ... The Penguins host the Calgary Flames on Saturday, and the Wild visit the New York Rangers on Sunday.
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