By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Last Game for the Penguins: Thursday, a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. The Penguins took the lead 49 second in to the first period off of a Chris Kunitz goal. A three-goal second period would give them a seemingly insurmountable edge over the Wild until Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley both scored to bring the game to within two. Olli Maatta scored on a penalty shot at 7:54 of the third period to bring the game to its final score. Jeff Zatkoff continued to impress, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Niklas Backstrom stopped 31 of 36 shots for the Wild.
Last Game for the Flames: Thursday, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Daniel Alfredsson scored 26 seconds in to the first period to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead. Mikael Backlund answered for the Flames five minutes later. Joakim Andersson got the lead back for Detroit, but Mark Giordano would again tie the game just a few minutes later. Daniel Alfredsson got his second of the night at 1:03 of overtime to give Detroit the win. Kari Romo faced 38 shots for the Flames while Jonas Gustavsson saw 22 for the Red Wings.
Last Time These Two Teams Met: October 8, 2011, a 5-3 win for the Penguins. Curtis Glencross opened up the scoring for Calgary at 15:32 of the first period. The Penguins would get goals from Tyler Kennedy, Matt Niskanen, Craig Adams, and Evgeni Malkin in the second period. Calgary got to within one with goals from Rene Bourque and Olli Jokinen in the third period. Jordan Staal would score an insurance goal on an empty net with five seconds remaining in the game. Marc-Andre Fleury faced 20 shots while Miikka Kiprusoff saw 36.
Last 10 Games for the Penguins: 9-1.
Last 10 Games for the Flames: 5-3-2.
Story of the Game: The last four regular season games have been handily won by the Penguins despite three of the six defensemen being recent call ups from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and one being a regular in the press box. The recent rash of injuries and suspensions has given rookie Olli Maatta the chance to take on increased minutes as a top-pairing defenseman, playing at least 22 minutes a night while getting big PK minutes. All of the defensemen have been thrown in to the fire as they either take on the responsibility of being the top two defensemen, as is the case with Maatta and Matt Niskanen, or simply playing in the NHL.
The impressive play of the young defensive corps has allowed some to view the more veteran defensemen as expendable. The play of Niskanen and Maatta in particular has left some wondering why the Penguins continue to pay guys like Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin millions of dollars when younger, and seemingly just as effective, options exist for hundreds of thousands of dollars. People should be careful when evaluating the current play of the defense. While it has been impressive, maybe even great, it is important to look as the play relative to the age and experience levels of the players. They have been impressive, but they have also made rookie mistakes and have shown their inexperience. That is not to say the Penguins have not earned their last four wins. On the contrary, those wins were hard-fought ones that should be talked about for some time. I’m just saying that before people go wishing for Ray Shero to sell the farm they should remember that guys like Orpik, Martin, and Rob Scuderi have earned their money and place in this league for a reason.
Penguins All-Time Record Against the Flames: 40-38-18.
Player to Watch on the Penguins: Olli Maatta has seven points (2g-5a) in his last 10 games.
Player to Watch on the Flames: Jiri Hudler has seven points (2g-5a) in his last 10 games.