Juuso Riikola, the Finnish rookie defenseman who has taken the Penguins by storm, made his third straight start, Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks. For the first time, he was badly beaten and began to soften his gap on the blueline to keep Vancouver forwards in front of him. He also adjusted.
Riikola, 24, played just his third game in the NHL, and while Mike Sullivan doled praise for the defenseman, his game had some rough spots. Fortunately for the Penguins, one rough spot was cleaned up between the second and third period.
Riikola has struggled with clearing attempts and being on his backhand in the defensive zone. His backhand passes to the outlet at the midwall have too often been weak. In the third period, Riikola began hammering the puck around the boards and out of the zone. His backhands also became forceful instead of slow and bouncy.
The additional effort to fire the puck on his backhand was noticeable. After several mistakes and giveaways, Riikola course corrected which must make the Penguins happy.
Riikola began the game with Jamie Oleksiak, however, at the start of the second period, Riikola was paired with Jack Johnson and played the last couple shifts with Kris Letang, as the Penguins sought offense.
1st Period (Times Rounded)
00:45: In the defensive zone, Riikola stuck close to his man, tough guy Antoine Roussell (Somewhat amusing as Riikola covered Ryan Reaves in his first game and didn’t back down). First, Riikola ran interference on the forechecking Roussell then stayed tight to his man around the net.