Give the Pittsburgh Penguins credit for moving quickly on this one. After injuring his left hand in last night’s win over the Winnipeg Jets, defenseman Olli Maatta underwent successful surgery this morning, according to GM Jim Rutherford. Maatta is expected to be out six weeks while he recovers, and should return just in time for the playoffs.
Maatta was hit by Adam Lowry in the second period last night, and left the ice cradling his left hand. Not long after, Justin Schultz was also the recipient of a big hit, this one from Dustin Byfuglien, and left with an apparent head or neck injury. Neither defenseman returned to action, leaving Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, and Trevor Daley to each log over 23 minutes on the blue line and, amazingly, help to erase a third period deficit and escape with a win. There is no word yet on Schultz’ condition, but it is clear now that the Penguins will need to find a solution other than playing down a defenseman to make up for the long-term loss of Maata.
The 22-year-old Finnish defender is about as solid in his own end as one can be at his age. Though he doesn’t bring much in the way of offense, with just one goal and six assists this season, Maatta is relied on to play big minutes in Pittsburgh and is a top shot-blocker and short-handed specialist. The Penguins can always find offense from their blue line, but they face a harder task in replacing Maatta’s defense as they jockey for postseason positioning down the stretch. First and foremost, expect Cole to see a much greater role over the next two months. Chad Ruhwedel and Steve Oleksy would then be the next men up as in-house options to replace Maatta, but don’t inspire much confidence. Derrick Pouliot and David Warsofsky may be better options, but are more offensively-inclined and wouldn’t make up for Maataa’s loss in the defensive zone. Instead, the Penguins, who had already been rumored to be looking for a veteran depth defenseman, may increase the vigor of their search. A smart, physical, two-way blue liner could be a key addition by Rutherford to keep Pittsburgh afloat in the competitive Metropolitan Division, at least until Maatta is ready to return.