Kris Letang to Pair with Olli Maatta?


Head coach Mike Johnston may be looking to shake up the Penguins’ defensive pairings after the first two games of the season, as the team’s recent practice featured a first pairing of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, followed by Christian Ehrhoff alongside Paul Martin.

Through the preseason and first two regular season games, Letang has skated primarily with Ehrhoff, while Maatta has paired with Martin.

Splitting up Letang and Ehrhoff will mean that both the first and second D-pairings will feature a solid, veteran offensive defender. Maatta and Martin have fairly well-rounded offensive games as well, but with each having a player of Letang’s/Ehrhoff’s offensive skill-set skating beside them, they’ll be allowed to focus primarily on playing a shutdown role.

More from Penguins News

While Pittsburgh’s offense has been firing on all cylinders through the first two games of the season, the defense has looked less spectacular, most notably in the first game of the season when they surrendered four goals to the Anaheim Ducks. The Pens managed to limit the Toronto Maple Leafs to only two goals in the second game of the year, but it will be top-flight teams like the Ducks that will serve as the measuring stick this season.

Rather than loading up the defensemen in a manner that has their top pairing featuring their most talented D-men and their bottom pairing featuring their most inexperienced, the coaching staff is taking a more balanced approach to the lineup.

“We were really thinking that we would balance out our three pairs a little bit,” Johnston told the Pittsburgh media. “We’re still experimenting to see how guys read and react off of each other, how they play together, to find out what our perfect pairs will be.”

It’s a wise move on the part of Johnston considering the traditional approach of structuring your pairings in a best-to-worst manner leaves open a certain portion of ice-time featuring the team’s two worst defenders out together. A balanced approach leaves the team more defensively protected at all times, even if it means a slightly less electrifying top pairing.

“We’re still experimenting to see how guys read and react off of each other”

                        – Mike Johnston

The move would represent a significant achievement for Maatta, as the 20-year old Finn has progressed so far in his first two seasons that he may now get the chance to skate on the top pairing of one of the most talented D-corps in the NHL.

Coach Johnston also mentioned that the Penguins may experiment with sending out different pairings at home and on the road. Such a strategy may slow the building of chemistry between pairings, but having each defender used to playing with a few others rather than one other D-men alone could come in handy if injuries pile up later in the season (as they often do in Pittsburgh).

In other news, Robert Bortuzzo continues to skate and work towards a return to the lineup. His return could change up the defensive lines even further, as Rob Scuderi could be pushed out to allow for a third pairing of Bortuzzo and Simon Despres – who have quite a bit of experience playing together back in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and could provide a nice balance of physicality and offensive skill behind the elite first and second pairs.

Want more Penguins news? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest!