Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
The last two Pittsburgh Penguins games could easily have been played inside Casey Plaza's Mohegan Sun Arena. For those of you not in the know, that is the building the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins call home and where seemingly half of the current Pens roster was playing a week before. Thanks to a mountain and a half of injuries and one actual suspension (James Neal) and one looming suspension (Deryk Engelland), the NHL squad as borrowed heavily from the AHL squad to fill the lineup card. But the glorious thing of it all is that hasn't hampered the Penguins at all. The Pens have won nine of the last ten and are on a four-game winning streak. The AHL guys have played a big part of that, but the young gun defensive core are really shining.
Pens GM Ray Shero knows what's up, saying, "We have some young defensemen coming. We drafted a lot of defense. People write this a lot. It’s time for these guys to play.”
Last night's matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs was another bright spot for the five youngsters filling in on the blueline. Olli Maatta, 19-years old, has played every game this year. He's looked remarkable guarding superstars Phil Kessel yesterday and Pavel Datsyuk on Saturday night. Maatta is also contributing offensively with two goals and six assists, which is awesome for a rookie defenseman. His exceptional play on both ends of the ice is becoming commonplace and coaches are starting to expect it from him. And the others.
Guys like Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, and Brian Dumoulin are making the decision of who stays and who goes a darn hard one. Despres, who was lackluster in training camp and sent to the AHL was more of a reality check, seems to have learned his lesson. His play last night has incredible, from solid body checks to crisp passes. Bortuzzo, who was sidelined for almost two weeks for sloppy play, was in the face of everyone wearing a blue and white jersey. He gives the Pens a edge that the other young defensemen don't have the mean streak for. With Engelland's pending suspension, Bortuzzo has the chance to re-win the hearts of his coaches. And then there's Brian Dumoulin, who in two games is showing a dump-truck load of promise and looks NHL ready.
Dumoulin isn't getting caught up in the hype, saying, "We all played together in Wilkes-Barre, and it’s good to see some familiar faces here, especially with me only being up for a week. But it’s a pretty inexperienced group; we’ve just got to really focus on keeping things simple and really focus on defending.”
Matt Niskanen, the last standing veteran defenseman (knock on wood), adds, "They have been doing a good job. They have a lot of promise, bright futures for a lot of our young defensemen here. It is fun to see them grow. I don’t have to do a lot if I just give them one piece of information on a situation that happens in a game or practice, just try to be there for them and talk to them. If we can help them just a little bit, that is a rewarding experience. Something I don’t get to do everyday is step into that leadership role and take on more responsibility and help the young guys succeed.”
The Pens blueline future is brighter than the Human Torch going supernova. The upcoming transition of moving away from Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik is going to be less frustrating than originally thought three years ago. Heck, decisions are going to be tough right now when those guys return. Either way, this is a amazing problem for the Penguins to have. A true win-win situation. Oh, and then there's guys like Philip Sameulsson who made his NHL debut yesterday and looked fine. Then there's Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington who we haven't seen yet and they are definitely coming.
So bust out them sunglasses people and enjoy the future . . . today!
- Good News for Penguins Blueline, as Maatta is Staying in Pittsburgh and Letang’s Set to Make Season Debut
- Penguins Bring up Brian Dumoulin After Placing Orpik on Injured Reserve
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