CRANBERRY TWP, Pa — Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta knows he did not play the best game of his career Saturday against Montreal.
“I’ve got to be better,” Maatta said. “It’s definitely not good enough.”
And it might be enough to cost him his starting job. He will likely be scratched Thursday when defending Western Conference champion Las Vegas comes to PPG Paints Arena for their lone visit this season.
During practice on Tuesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, Maatta was paired with extra defenseman Chad Ruhwedel in what would be considered the No. 4 pairing. That’s more than just speculation he will likely be a scratch.
Maatta played alongside Jack Johnson and the pair was on the ice for the first two goals in the Penguins 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. In his first two games, he has not scored a point and is a minus-3.
“I think there’s a lot of scoring chances we’re giving up and we need to clean that up,” Maatta said. “I’m just trying to get back to game speed and good habits.”
Moving Maatta, who was the team’s only blueliner to play all 82 games last season, has caused a major shift in the team’s defensive alignment. Johnson was moved to the left side and matched up with Justin Schultz and on the second pairing. Jamie Oleksiak, Schultz’s former partner, is now on the left side with rookie Jusso Riikola, who may make his NHL debut against the Golden Knights.
Only the pairing of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin remained intact.
“What happens, happens,” Maatta said. “We’ve got good ‘D’ men here, so like we talked about the whole season last season and this preseason, we’ve got eight ‘D’ men who can play in this league, so it’s always competition.”
Last season Maatta had one of the most productive years of his brief NHL career. He scored seven goals, set a personal best with 22 assists and his 29 points tied his 2013-14 rookie mark. Maatta has also worked on his speed which regressed after a string of injuries including shoulder surgery and cancer surgery. He and Johnson have struggled as a pair and it appears their time is up, for now.
Riikola is also 24-years-old and also from Finland but is a rookie. Riikola played left-defense in preseason but is currently slated for the right side of the third pair.