Maatta and Daley click after injuries
Neither Trevor Daley nor Olli Maatta got much chance to enjoy the buildup to the playoffs over the final few weeks of the regular season, at least not on the ice.
Both defensemen came back from injury just before the postseason began but have jumped in to become a reliable pairing for the Penguins.
“I think they’re getting better with each game they play,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think their timing’s getting better, their conditioning is getting better, their game conditioning is getting much better. These guys are good players.”
Maatta only played one game in the regular season before diving into playoff action, while Daley got two. Daley regularly has skipped some practices and morning skates as he finishes up his recovery from knee surgery.
“Just to get some strength back,” Daley said. “That’s what we decided at the start of it, so we’re just trying to stick to it.”
The duo has put up a 2.67 goals against per 60 (GA60) in its 67:30 of postseason action so far, the best total of any Penguins defense pairing. It helps that they’re familiar with one another. The two played together for 473:02 in the regular season, making them the Penguins’ third-most-common pairing this season.
Maatta and Daley also happen to be the most experienced defensemen in the lineup when it comes to playoff action. They have combined for 89 career postseason games. The secondmost-experienced pairing — Justin Schultz and Ian Cole — has 54.
“They’ve played in a highstakes environment, they have experience,” Sullivan said. “They’re trustworthy guys and they’re good players. They’ve been a good pair for us. They played a fair amount together in my tenure here, and so there’s familiarity there. We think they’re getting better with each game that they get under their belt.”
Carter Rowney had the least playing time of any Penguins player through the first four games of the series, averaging just 10 minutes and 51 seconds.
The Blue Jackets are to be forgiven if they feel as if he has been out there a lot more because Rowney has recorded a team-high 18 hits.
That comes out to 4.5 per game, or just under one for every two minutes he’s on the ice. Rowney, though, said he didn’t necessarily enter the series intent of being such a physical presence.
“I don’t know if it was planned,” he said. “It’s just kind of the way the games have played out. I’m just trying to play a hard game, make things difficult on them.”
The Penguins’ minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, which posted the best regular-season record in the American Hockey League this season, will open the Calder Cup playoffs Friday night in Providence, R.I.
They will be on the road for the first two games in the best-of-five series with the Bruins, then return to Mohegan Sun Arena for the balance of the series.
The Baby Penguins sent players to the parent club on a regular basis throughout the winter, and some of their most important contributors — guys such as forwards Jake Guentzel, Josh Archibald, Carter Rowney, defenseman Cameron Gaunce and goalie Tristan Jarry — are on the NHL roster as Round 1 of the AHL playoffs begins.
Nonetheless, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton looks to be capable of making a deep playoff run.
“They have a good team down there,” Rowney said. “They have a lot of core players and a lot of vets. The depth on that team is extreme.”
Although Jarry was the No. 1 goalie in Wilkes-Barre this season, his replacement — Casey DeSmith — had a pretty fair year, posing the AHL’s best goals-against average, 2.01.
Consistency is key
When defenseman Brian Dumoulin was asked about the Penguins starting the same lineup for the first four games of the playoffs — after a brutal run of injuries late in the regular season — he did everything but knock on the wood of his locker.
“So far,” Dumoulin said. “Obviously, playoff injuries happen. They’re sometimes going to happen, sometimes they’re not. Obviously, with that bad luck that we had in that run … I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s good to get through some games injury free.”