Bad news today for the Pittsburgh Penguins, defenseman Olli Maatta is injured and out indefinitely. From a team release:
The Pittsburgh Penguins have placed defenseman Olli Maatta on injured reserve, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.
Maatta will be out indefinitely.
Maatta, 24, suffered an upper-body injury after absorbing a hit in Monday night’s 4-1 road victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Maatta has skated in 55 games this year, producing 13 points (1G-12A) and a plus-7.
Maatta would not return after his first period injury and the way he held his arm leaving the ice made many fear it could be a shoulder related injury. That the Pens already know he’s out “indefinitely” and release this on an off day sure seems to point to a lengthy injury.
Now with the 2019 NHL playoffs about two months away, it makes one wonder about the Pens’ strategy and mindset. They have Justin Schultz about to return from injury, but what level of play will he have based on missing all season long just about and jumping into play with everyone else in mid-season form?
And Maatta’s injury also extinguishes and faint hope the Pens would finally make a lineup without anchoring themselves to the terrible play of Jack Johnson. They probably weren’t going to anyways, but if there was any question that would have to be out now at this point.
Maatta’s play is always polarizing due to stylistically not being a very explosive skater, but his defensive ability to play second pair minutes, use stick and gap control to limit opponents is usually beneficial to the team, if not heavily dependent on the caliber of partner he’s paired with.
As of now, with Schultz’s return tentatively pending, the Pens’ depth chart could be:
Marcus Pettersson - Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin - Justin Schultz
Juuso Riikola - Jack Johnson
There’s also Ethan Prow down in the AHL, who has quietly developed into an all-star at the minor league level. The 26-year old undrafted player hasn’t been considered much of an NHL prospect (he played games in the ECHL as recently as last season). but there’s no doubt with 15 goals and 37 points in 49 games this season in Wilkes-Barre that he’s been the best of the bunch on the farm.
And since that third pair doesn’t inspire much confidence and it still asks a lot of Pettersson to stay afloat on a top pair. As well as Schultz to play at a strong level himself. So it will be interesting to see if this forces Jim Rutherford’s hand to perhaps look to add a defenseman via trade or be content to see if Schultz’s return alone will be enough as the Pens go into the stretch run without a capable and important player like Maatta.