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Talking to Myself: Post-TrauMaattac Plans

This week’s Talking to Myself looks at what Olli Maatta’s absence will do to the Pens’ blueline, finds more meaningful Mike Johnston quotes and a few other points of interest.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

October 27th, Penguins Live

Paul Steigerwald joined host Steve Kolbe to talk about Olli Maatta and went on a mini-rant: "Everyone in the media wants to know now what it is. They don’t want to wait. They want to get the scoop and tweet it out. Can we wait? Can we wait an hour? I think the world can wait for the news. That’s why the Penguins are doing it at 1. It’s just amazing to me this world of instantaneous information, instant gratification."

First off, best wishes to Maatta on his upcoming surgery and recovery. The way he’s handled this is the latest example of how impressive this kid is. To Steigerwald’s point, on one hand, getting a scoop is part of the job of a reporter, isn’t it? On the other, he makes a valid point. There were all kinds of speculation between the press conference and the announcement of it, and it all turned out to be way off the mark. Sometimes, it is better to just wait and see.

Sam Kasan was asked about defense pairs once Maatta is out. He’d put Christian Ehrhoff with Kris Letang, citing how good they looked in preseason. He also suggested putting Robert Bortuzzo with Paul Martin, saying Martin could cover up for any mistakes Bortuzzo might make as he gets back up to speed. He wanted to leave Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres together as they’ve done well.

I agree about Ehrhoff-Letang. It was just preseason, but they looked great. I’d get Despres back to his preferred position on the left and pair him with Bortuzzo. If I recall correctly, they played well as a pair in Wilkes-Barre. That leaves Scuderi and Martin, which I have mixed feelings on. It lets Martin stay on the right side, where he seems to be more comfortable, but means Scuderi will be getting an expanded role, and I’m not sure he can handle it. Scuderi has been better than I expected so far, but I think most of that is due to how he’s been used.

October 28th, Penguins Live

Kolbe asked Bob Errey what he thinks the Pens should do on the blueline once Maatta is out. He suggested Despres could handle more minutes and that Bortuzzo’s return would be welcomed.

Despres is averaging 13:31 with virtually no special teams time. Martin is getting less than a minute per game on the power play. Ehrhoff is getting just over a minute on the penalty kill. It’s hard to imagine Despres beating out either guy for Maatta’s special teams’ minutes, but could get more time at even-strength.

October 29th, Penguins Live

Head coach Mike Johnston on whether there’s any push to get the second power play on the ice sooner: "The key thing with the first unit is if they have to break out twice, then that’s it. They have to get their change. There’s certain regulations we have on that first power play. If they’re in the zone, like last night I think there was 1:18 on the clock, so our decision is definitely going to be to keep them out there if they’re not exhausted."

As someone who has often thought the top unit stayed out too long, this was good to hear.

Jesse Marshall offered his thoughts on the win over New Jersey: "I thought Mike Johnston did an excellent job of getting the Penguins through the neutral zone with speed. They put their work boots and hard hats on and got to work dumping the puck into the zone, putting a lot of pressure on the New Jersey defense and making them turn around. They made life hard on the Devils in the second half of that hockey game to get that puck deep, make the D turn around and go get pucks, and make them uncomfortable. It really disrupted what the Devils want to do in the neutral zone."

Remember when Johnston was hired and everyone took him saying dump-ins were a last resort as meaning they would never do it? Oops. Dump and chase has long been a viable strategy when executed properly. It’s hard to do the chase part when everyone is standing still when the dump-in happens.

Brian Metzer asked Vince Communale what’s different about the Pens on 5-on-3s now: "They’re shooting the puck. 5-on-3 is when you want to get the most possible shots you can. You have two more guys on the ice… even if there’s a long rebound, chances are you’re going to get to that puck before the defending team does. It’s not rocket surgery. Shoot the puck, get the rebounds. You have two more guys than they do."

I appreciate any Mystery, Alaska reference; underrated hockey movie. The Pens lead the league in 5-on-3 goals with four. Colorado is second with two (with two more games played). The Pens have embraced a simpler approach for the most part. When they do that, their talent becomes an even bigger difference-maker. It’s an approach many of us have been begging to see. The results speak for themselves.

October 31st, Penguins Hotline

Rob Rossi asked Johnston if there was anything about Marc-Andre Fleury’s game that surprised him or stood out. Johnston mentioned his lateral speed, calling him "one of the best in the league" in that regard, adding "I thought his puck handling is starting to improve. I like his decision making because it takes hits away from our defense. We want him to handle the puck. We want him to handle it at the right time, make good decisions with it. I think the more he gets comfortable with the options we’re giving him, that he’ll be better at it."

Johnston brought up Fleury’s puck handling unprompted. It’s common for a coach to be complimentary of a player, but to call this out as a plus without being specifically asked about it is a little different. I don’t ever remember anyone talking about working on that with him before. Good to hear; hope it continues.

Metzer asked Johnston if he was surprised at how many penalties LA took: "I think in games, you try and earn penalties. In some of the games lately, we haven’t earned any penalties. We haven’t fought for space, we haven’t drove the net hard, and when you do those types of things, you tend to draw some penalties, and I thought we earned some tonight."

I like this quote because it stresses how Johnston wants to play. Just having the puck isn’t enough. He wants to attack the prime areas of the ice.

November 1st, Pens Week

Steigerwald asked Metzer if he’d circle the Nashville game and reference it as a turning point as far as their approach to how they want to play. Metzer agreed, calling it a good learning moment.

It was their first complete game of the year, and as we’ve seen, they’ve done very well since for outside of the beginning of the New Jersey game.

Steigerwald talked about the dominant special teams play, wondering if the Pens relied on the power play too much. Metzer pointed out the Penguins have 20 goals outside of special teams of their 36 total, so he didn’t think it was an issue. Both also pointed out the Pens are drawing a lot of penalties at even-strength, a point Johnston mentioned after the LA game (listed above).

Updating those numbers to include the Buffalo win, the Pens have now scored 19 goals on special teams (18 PP, 1 SH) and 22 at even-strength. That’s pretty good balance. And as Johnston said, they’re drawing penalties. As long as they continue working, they should continue having success.

Steigerwald and Metzer then talked about the post-Maatta defense. Steigerwald asked if Metzer would put Martin with Letang, keep Scuderi and Despres together, leaving Ehrhoff to play with Bortuzzo. Metzer agreed, suggesting Martin is the most likely candidate to absorb extra minutes, but noting Ehrhoff could too. Neither wanted to break up Scuderi-Despres and wondered if playing with a more defensive guy in Bortuzzo would open up Ehrhoff offensively.

It’s always good to get differing viewpoints. We’ll find out what the coaches think soon enough.

November 1st, Penguins Hotline

Dave Molinari asked Johnston if there was anything the Pens weren’t doing well, even in practice. "I didn’t think we carried our speed very well tonight. There were a lot of lulls in the game. I thought when Sill, Goc, and Adams hit the ice in the second period for two shifts they picked up the energy of the game. I thought the energy of the game went up to another level just because of how hard they were forechecking and the speed they were coming with through the neutral zone. We have to be a better speed team through the neutral zone and carry our speed into the offensive zone."

It’s good to hear a coach talk matter-of-factly about the things they need to do better, even after a 5-0 win.