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Insider Only Off-Day Report: Maatta a top ROY candidate? Crosby scoring more in 3rd; Conner, Vitale’s impact on third line

Dan Bylsma last night called Olli Maatta the Penguins best defenseman vs the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Olli Maatta, one of the veterans of the group, was our best defenseman tonight,” Bylsma said in his post-game comments.
Maatta logged a career high 24:17 of ice time vs the Maple Leafs and had a team-high 6:12 of ice time shorthanded. Maatta led the Penguins with 4 blocked shots and he’s looked like a 10 year veteran the past couple games, going up against two of the NHL’s best offensive players in Pavel Datsyuk and Phil Kessel.
We’ve known for a while that Maatta is the real deal and if the media wasn’t so fixated on points, you’d be hearing Maatta’s name as a top Rookie of the Year Candidate. For all of the buzz this season about Seth Jones being the best rookie defensemen in hockey, that label deserves to go to Maatta.
Maatta is not getting the recognition he deserves outside of Pittsburgh. For instance, Corey Pronman who is ESPN’s NHL draft and prospect analyst, released his top-10 rookie rankings on December 5th and Maatta was never mentioned nor mentioned among the six players Pronman lists as “honorable mentions” after the top-10. Hard to take any rookie rankings list out there seriously that doesn’t include Maatta.
From Sidney Crosby’s standards, you could say he’s having a down year. With 47 points (19G-28A) in 35 games, Crosby is averaging 1.34 points per game, the lowest point per game total he’s had since the 2008-2009 season. From the start of the 2010-2011 season through the 2013 lockout shortened season, Crosby averaged 1.61 points per game over 99 regular season games.
Last season Crosby had 15 goals and 56 points through his first 35 games, averaging 1.60 points per game during that span.
While he’s scored nine less points compared to his first 35 games last season, the positive is that Crosby’s goal scoring numbers are up 19 to 15, and he’s scoring more in the third period. Of Crosby’s 19 goals this season, 10 have come in the third period and 1 in overtime. Last season Crosby scored only 5 third period goals in 36 games.
Crosby’s game winning goal last night with 6:03 left in regulation happened during one of the rare times he was able to get away from Dion Phaneuf as the Leafs got caught with an icing call. However, getting away from Phaneuf wasn’t by designed as Crosby said afterwards his line was up to go on the ice anyways.
“I don’t think we were trying to get away from him,” Crosby said. “Dan was pretty much rolling the lines, It was our turn up. I don’t think we were necessarily trying to get away.”
As crazy as it sounds, the Penguins coaching staff has felt the third line has been at it’s best this season when Chris Conner is playing on Brandon Sutter’s wing. It’s a true evaluation.
Conner has been a better fit for Brandon Sutter than Beau Bennett or Jussi Jokinen were this season. Joe Vitale has also emerged as an excellent fit at right wing for now and suddenly the Penguins third line has become a difference maker with two surprising players on the wings.
The Penguins are 49-23 in the last 72 regular season games Conner has been in the Penguins lineup dating back to the 2010-2011 season. As much as Dan Bylsma likes Conner, he’s still a longshot to earn a full-time roster spot with the team but there’s intrigue with Vitale locking down a spot on Sutter’s right wing.

Once this team is healthy and if Beau Bennett returns as a productive player after the Olympic break, I’d be intrigued to see a third line of Pascal Dupuis – Brandon Sutter – Joe Vitale. Lot of speed and energy there.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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