[Photo Credit: Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
It was only a matter of time the Penguins defensive unit began to get healthy again, but head coach Dan Bylsma sent a message to Olli Mattaa by scratching him for Tuesday's game against the New Jersey Devils.
The 19-year-old Maatta has been a major factor in the Pens winning ways as they dealt with injuries to numerous defensemen. At one point, the Penguins top five defensemen were all sidelined. Brooks Orpik, Rub Scuderi, Kris Letang and Paul Martin were out because of injuries, and Deryk Engelland was serving a 5-game suspension.
It's up for speculation as to whether or not Mattaa being scratched is due to poor play, or Bylsma simply wanting to give his youngest defenseman the night off.
Maatta started the year only receiving anywhere from 10-12 minutes of ice time, but he has been averaging well over 20 minutes per game since Dec. 5. Playing alongside Matt Niskanen, who was the only veteran defenseman left on the roster for some time, Maatta has developed into a fantastic two-way defenseman and has been playing much more like an experienced veteran than a teenager.
On Sunday, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi returned to the Penguins blue line against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Maatta played arguably his worst game of the season.
Maatta found himself on the wrong end of Cory Tropp's highlight goal which tied the game late in the second period. It's expected for a 19-year-old rookie to make mistakes, but having a guy like Tropp, who entered the game with only four career NHL goals, be able to make that kind of play in that point of the game simply can't happen.
Maatta finished Sunday's game with only 17:22 time on ice, which was his lowest amount since Nov. 27. It was also the first time in over a month he had under 20 shifts.
It's tough to think that Bylsma is more comfortable with Simon Despres or Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup over Maatta, but only time will tell where the pieces will fall.
It's only going to get more difficult to earn a roster spot when Martin and Letang return.
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