Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Maatta's Absence a First for Season Lineup Blip Comes 10 Games into Year

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Maatta's Absence a First for Season Lineup Blip Comes 10 Games into Year

Article excerpt

OK, so it's pretty impressive that the Penguins have won seven of their first 10 games.

Especially that they have scored 15 unanswered goals since falling behind Tuesday against New Jersey, 3-1.

And that their power play has scored so often that its conversion rate -- 41.9 percent -- almost seems as if the decimal point is misplaced.

And that Evgeni Malkin has had at least one point in every game, despite spending virtually the entire preseason in the trainer's room, while Sidney Crosby already has six multiple-point performances.

And that Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't given up a goal in 154 minutes, 46 seconds, with three shutouts in his past four starts.

All pretty gaudy stuff, but the Penguins' most eye-catching statistic so far this season might be that after losing an average of nearly 6 1/2 man-games to injury and illness in 2013-14, they've dressed the same 20 players for each of their first 10 games.

That would constitute a noteworthy streak for any club; for one that endured as many health woes as the Penguins did a year ago, it verges on a medical miracle.

That run, however, will end Tuesday night. Defenseman Olli Maatta will miss their game in Minnesota because of surgery needed to remove a tumor from his thyroid gland.

Maatta is expected to be out for about four weeks, and Robert Bortuzzo, who was injured in training camp, is scheduled to be plugged into the void created by Maatta's absence.

It is a significant one.

Maatta has one goal and five assists, leaving him just one point behind Kris Letang for the team scoring lead among defensemen, and is averaging 19:59 of ice time. That includes 3:02 of short-handed work, just eight seconds fewer than team leader Rob Scuderi.

Precisely where Bortuzzo will fit in on the blue line isn't clear. He is expected to work on the third pairing -- Maatta and Letang have been the team's top unit -- but coach Mike Johnston said after the Penguins' 5-0 victory Saturday against Buffalo that he has not settled on the reconfigured defense combinations. …

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