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5 Thoughts on the Penguins: On Reaves, the myth of deterrence, Maatta, and the White House visit

The regular season is almost a week old, so here’s one thought per Cup on the Pittsburgh Penguins so far

Nashville Predators v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

#1: Three games and three goals off the stick of Olli Maatta. Two that he’s scored (which is one more than all of last season) and the third tipped in by Ryan Reaves. The Penguins are a team love to pass low-to-high in the offensive zone. I haven’t tracked it, but I would bet that Sidney Crosby probably leads the league, or is certainly close to the top in finding defensemen with passes. So with all those opportunities, the team needs offense from the blue line. Maatta’s shot isn’t overpowering, but he’s clever about quickly getting it released and has been effective at accurately targeting it through traffic. We’ll see how much of it continues (he’s not scoring every game, obviously) but so far so good.

The main thing for a guy like Maatta could be building the confidence build of getting results.

"I don't think the last few years I've played my best hockey," Maatta said. "I think I'm a lot better than I've been."

However, that sentiment is not shared by the team's coaching staff.

"I think Olli is hard on himself," Sullivan said. "Olli has been a really good player for us. All players go through their ups and downs. Olli is no different in that regard.

"What I love about Olli is his compete level and his ability to bounce back when he does have a game that he thinks he didn't play particularly well in. That's an important part of being a pro."

You’d be hard-pressed to find a player that spends more time on the ice and in the gym than Maatta. He works hard and hopefully his mental game will help his execution on the ice. As we’ve seen first-hand with a guy like Justin Schultz, sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.

#2: One weird thing about Ryan Reaves detractors is the immediate reference of the “he doesn’t deter anything!” strawman, as if he has no meaning or use if another player dares to even look at a Penguins star player. And I call it a strawman because I don’t know anyone who understands the game that believes that hockey will turn easy for the stars just because a tough guy has their back.

That’s not how it goes. Since the culture of the game dictates that with or without tough guys, the stars going to take abuse and nonsense and the antics of guys like Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky, et al would you want a guy like Ryan Reaves in your corner?

It’s as if some can’t just take enjoyment and entertainment from the sport and physical play. Which is odd since hockey is and always has been a physical game. No one wants to see thugs on ice taking out skilled players with dangerous/illegal hits, of course, but if stars have to take abuse, why not have someone to stick up for them?

Hockey is in the entertainment industry, and all things considered with a goal, two winning fights, seven hits and a post-game interview conducted with a Steelers helmet on, there weren’t many more entertaining performances than Reaves put on Saturday night. It’s ok to enjoy it.

#3: By all indications, it looks like Patric Hornqvist will be back in the lineup as soon as the team’s next game tomorrow night in Washington.

How Hornqvist will slot back into the lineup will be an interesting story to watch unfold. Hornqvist was skating on a 3rd line with Greg McKegg and Conor Sheary/Scott Wilson and Jake Guentzel kept the position on the top power play unit, at least for now. Who knows how long the team will remain in good health up front, but for now it looks like a nice problem to have, that the coaches will take any day, to have all their available forwards ready to go.

#4: Speaking of Washington, today marks the day of the controversial visit to the White House for the Pens. One thing is abundantly clear, despite the backlash and misgivings of some on social media, the Penguins don’t see this as political.

Mike Sullivan:

“As I've said all along here, for us, this is not political. The choice to accept the invitation by our organization, to go to the White House, is not political. Nobody's taken a side.”

Sidney Crosby:

“From my side of things, there's absolutely no politics involved. Hopefully it stays that way. It's a visit that we've done in the past. It's been a good experience. It's not about politics, that's for sure.”

Conor Sheary

“Either way, you're going to get a raft, if you don't go or you do go. I think it's more about the fact that we won the championship and it's tradition to go to the White House. It has nothing to do with who's the president or what decisions he's making.”

Sheary’s comment has a lot to it, the Pens were bound to make some group of people angry in this politically-charged climate. Either they break tradition and not accept the invite (which their democrat co-owner and Team President have been calling an honor since the days after they won the Cup), or they’d go and make the other half the country mad.

It certainly does speak to the divide in our country, that though Tim Thomas did decline to visit the last administration, it never was a major issue among the public or athletes to visit controversial Presidents, or ones with low approval ratings. Clearly times change, issues are different and more emotional, so here we are. Stepping back to think, it seems sort of odd that it never was seen as political for a champion to visit the White House, in what inherently is a move by a professional team to be recognized by a President.

Phil Kessel ended it with as deep as hockey players think, really. “Obviously there have been some issues. I’m not that political. Most teams go, it is what it is.”

For some it’s disappointing that the Pens aren’t making more of their platform. But for others, going to the White House is their privilege as champions. Probably the only good thing that about everyone can agree on is at least it will all be over with hopefully after today’s news cycle.

#5: To end on a lighter not, hey how about that backup goalie who gave up four goals in just over nine minutes, eh?

OK, but seriously, it will be interesting to see how much rope and opportunities that the Pens give to Antti Niemi.

Weirdly enough, Pittsburgh has the same schedule this week as they did last, with games on Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday. Conventional wisdom says that the backup gets that middle start again, which would be on the road in Tampa, probably no easy task.

The Pens October schedule is no joke, with 3 more back-to-back instances to come, and six games in the 10 days between Oct 20-29. They’ll need a good performance from their backup goalie. If Niemi falters again in his second start, which again might be on a b-2-b situation on Thursday night and again on the road, what does that do for his confidence? Or his standing with the team?

The deck wasn’t stacked very friendly for a backup goalie with this opening schedule for the Pens featuring 2 road game starts that the backup traditionally gets being on the road, against good teams and on the 2nd night of a b-2-b. But the NHL doesn’t have much mercy or hurt feelings so it will be up to Niemi to battle back and prove he belongs.


OK, hot takes on Maatta, Reaves and the White House visit? My work here is done. Everyone, as always remember the Pensburgh community guidelines of ELE. Everyone love everyone. Thanks as always :)