Shea-ved Ice: Pens Lose, Maatta Decision Looms
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The Pittsburgh Penguins saw their four-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
For the most part, the Penguins dominated the contest, but former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere completely stole the show.
Giguere stopped all 34 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season in just three starts. For the season, Giguere has only allowed two goals on 103 shots.
What was more impressive than just stopping 34 shots was his integral role in shutting down seven power play chances for the Penguins.
His best save of the night came on a mini-breakaway chance by Chris Kunitz with about seven minutes to play in the game.
What can you say? Giguere was not letting a puck get by him last night. Nights like these happen from time to time. He also got a ton of help from his teammates who blocked another 22 shots by the Pens.
Yeah, 22 blocks.
Something tells me Patrick Roy is preaching the importance of helping out your goalie to his squad.
The Penguins are now 7-2-0 this season, which is a fine place to be just nine games into the campaign. However, there’s a big decision to be made before the Pens take on the Islanders Friday night.
The elephant in the room right now is what to do with rookie defenseman Olli Maatta. This is a great time to not be General Manager Ray Shero or head coach Dan Bylsma.
How do you send this kid back to the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League? He’s performed incredibly well at the NHL level, he makes good decisions with the puck, he’s responsible in his own end, etc.
Again, how do you possibly send him back to juniors where he will undoubtedly set the league on fire as a man among boys?
The simple answer is – you don’t. You keep him here and let him put that sweater on every night that he’s earned.
The complex answer has more variables than a calculus equation and there isn’t enough space here to go into all of it.
Now, there were reports over the weekend from the Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari and the Trib’s Rob Rossi that suggested the Penguins would be keeping Maatta beyond the nine-game threshold.
One other thing to consider is that if Maatta plays 40 games, he’ll accrue one full year of service in the NHL and be eligible for unrestricted free agency even quicker.
However, if the Pens are willing to keep him here and burn up a year of his entry level deal, they also have to be willing to let him play more than 40 games.
It would make zero sense to keep him in Pittsburgh beyond the nine-game limit and then hold him under 40 games. At that point, he’d be better served going back to juniors where he’ll actually play.
Now, if the Penguins do in fact keep him here, something has to give.
The Penguins are already carrying seven defensemen on the active roster and that doesn’t include Kris Letang, who appears to be very close to making his season debut. For the short term, they may be okay from a salary cap standpoint, but that’s also including James Neal, Matt D’Agostini and Tomas Vokoun on LTIR.
The point is, someone is going to have to go. Even for Letang to play, the Penguins are going to have to do something to clear space on the 23-man roster for him. Of course, that’s easily achieved by sending Chris Conner or Harry Zolnierczyk back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
However, that still leaves the Pens with eight defensemen on the roster.
Are the Penguins willing to leave a guy like Robert Bortuzzo in the press box every night after the great strides he’s made so far through camp and the first nine games of the season?
What about Deryk Engelland? Sure, he’s seen time at right wing this season, but I don’t think that’s an ideal situation – at all.
What about Dustin Jeffrey? He’s gotten passed up more than any player on this roster in recent history. What’s his role going forward? Is he trade bait?
Again, the decision to keep Maatta around hinges upon a lot of things. Fortunately, the Penguins have a few days to sort it all out and figure out what to do with him.
If they elect to send him back to London, I don’t envy Shero and Bylsma. That’s going to be one incredibly difficult conversation to have.
Personally, I think he’s done more than enough to stick with the Penguins, He’s proven he can play at this level and that he’s ready right now.
The Penguins have plenty of other defensive prospects in the pipeline and the changing of the guard on the blue line will happen eventually. It’s better to usher them in one by one, rather than all at once.
If Maatta can play, and he’s shown he can, he deserves to be here and let Shero figure out how to make it work.
But, I have this feeling that the other questions above will end up forcing their hand in the opposite direction.
Then again, the Penguins found a way to get Letang and Malkin signed to a long-term contracts this summer, so anything is possible.
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