-Much has been made about the possibility of Olli Maatta staying in the NHL all season. All of three games in, he has given Penguins management every reason to consider it. He just looks like he belongs in the NHL at this point. He's been confident throughout training camp and the early stages of the regular season. His mistakes have been rare and he hasn't been shy about getting involved in offense. That said, consider the following:
-There's a difference between three games and 82 games at the NHL level. Maatta has never played more than 58 games at any level and that was with the London Knights of the OHL in 2011-12. The NHL is a whole other animal. Remember how Kris Letang wore down in the latter stages of the 2007-08 season?
-Assuming the Penguins have a fully healthy defensive corp, never a save assumption mind you, where is Maatta? The top four defensemen are set with Letang, Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik. The coaching staff is enamored with Matt Niskanen and Robert Bortuzzo is the biggest player on the team. If that means Maatta is the seventh defenseman on this roster, how does that help his development?
-Orpik, Niskanen Deryk Engelland are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after this season. If the Penguins part ways with any or all of those players, why would management want to burn off a year of Maatta's entry-level contract if they hope to use him as a replacement down the road?
-Don't get us wrong, Maatta has been lights out. But there are more reasons looking down the road to delay his full-time arrival to the NHL than there are reasons to keep him at this level right now.
-Jeff Zatkoff gets the start in net tonight. It's his NHL debut. We're eager to see what he offers. The Penguins aren't exactly throwing him into the fire as he's facing a less than spectacular Panthers team. It's not like he's facing an explosive offense like the Canucks'. But the only way they're going to know what they have in him is to see him in a real NHL game. That test starts tonight.
-We've talked to Zatkoff in recent weeks on and off the record. He is aware of the fact he needs to prove himself at this level but at the same time, he speaks with confidence. In comparison, that confidence wasn't evident with any conversations we ever had with his predecessor Brad Thiessen who seemed to scared some times. We have no idea what a conversation with a hockey writer/blogger means in terms of being an NHL player, but Zatkoff impresses us a little more in that regard than Thiessen ever did.
-It's not completely clear who the Panthers will start in net tonight between Scott Clemmensen or Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom was torched by the Lightning last night and Clemmensen mopped up for him. Markstrom had two strong games against the Penguins last season but lost each.
-Back in the mid-2000s, when the Penguins were dreadful, the Devils would usually play starter Martin Brodeur upwards of 70 games a season. The Penguins were usually the opponent the Devils would rest Brodeur against and more often than not, Clemmensen would get the start.
-The Panthers are celebrating their 20th anniversary season. They have been cursed with unstable ownership for most of their existence. With the exception of the "Rat Trick" Panthers under Wayne Huizenga in the mid 1990s, this franchise has gone through goaltenders like they are hockey tape. The Viola family are the latest owners through the revolving door. They are saying a lot of the right things about building a winner but time will tell. The Panthers' biggest issue isn't being in a southern market. It's not having stability at the top.
-The Panthers have a lot of nice, complimentary players but no one we would say you could build a franchise around. Brian Campbell is maybe the closest player to that description but he's in his 30s and he's never even been someone you would consider as being one of the top five defensemen in the NHL.
-The Panthers' roster is dotted with guys like Kris Versteeg and Brad Boyes. They're all player who have had success over the years but usually in a complimentary role to an elite franchise player such as Patrick Kane or John Tavares. The Panthers have no one like that on this roster.
-Florida has Aleksander Barkov on the roster, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. He is a Finnish player of Russian descent who offers some size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds). We're eager to see what made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
-Dan Bylsma is wearing Panthers colors. That can't be a good omen:
-Today is a notable day in Penguins history:
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin Brooks Orpik and Jeff Zatkoff.
-Their scratches are Deryk Engelland and James Neal.
-The Panthers' starters are Alexsander Barkov, Brad Boyes, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Cambell, Tom Gilbert and Jacob Markstrom.
-Their scratches are former Penguin Ryan Whitney and Tim Thomas.
19:39: Zatkoff is tested early. He steers away a slapper by Campbell from the right point which deflected on net. Then he eats up a one-timer by Fleischmann from the left half wall.
18:53: After a strong shift by the Penguins' third line with a forecheck, Versteeg gains the Penguins' blue line and whips a wrister over the cage.
18:05: The Penguins trail for the first time all season. Crosby has a puck stolen by Fleischmann at the Penguins' blue line. Fleischmann deals to Boyes in the right circle. Boyes grips and rips a wrister by the glove hand of Zatkoff. It glances off the cross bar and into the cage. That shot may have been partially deflected by Maatta's stick. Either way, it's a lead for the Panthers. Fleischmann gets the only assist. Panthers 1-0.
17:23: The Penguins attempt a form of their "quick draw" faceoff play. Malkin wins the draw. Bennett is positioned to Malkin's right and deals it back to Jokinen who is positioned behind Malkin. Jokinen immediately puts a one-timer on net which Markstrom eats up.
16:31: A wraparound attempt by Scottie Upshall is fended off by Zatkoff.
17:26: Bortuzzo deals a puck from his own zone to Dupuis in the neutral zone. Off a drop pass in the neutral zone by Dupuis, Crosby races into the offensive zone and lifts a wrister just wide of the cage.
15:10: Bortuzzo in deep and snaps off a wrister from the right circle. Markstrom kicks it out.
14:51: Off a feed by Crosby, Niskanen snaps off a wrister from the left point. Markstrom gloves it.
14:22: The Penguins don't take long to tie the game. Ofa turnover by Marce Goc iat his own blue line Bennett gains the offensive and deals to Malkin on the left wing. Poor Mike Weaver is all twisted up trying to defend the two-on-one. Malkin releases wrister by the blocker of Markstrom. Bennett gets the only assist. Panthers 1, Penguins 1.
13:51: Off a nice backhanded pass from behind the cage by the great Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass jabs a shot off the right post.
13:28: On a delayed penalty, Crosby whacks a partial slapper on net. Markstrom fight it off.
13:26: Matt Gilroy is nabbed for holding Chuck Kobasew. Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Martin and Jokinen take the ice.
13:24: That power play doesn't last long as Kunitz clips Erik Gudbranson in the face with a stick. That's high sticking. We'll have four-on-four play for 1:58.
13:10: Campbell has a wrister from the center point deflected out of play on a stick-on-puck by Orpik.
12:29: Tom Gilbert flings a wrister from the right point. Zatkoff spots the puck in traffic and eats it up.
11:57: Weaver has to defend Malkin on another two-on-one and faires better this time. From the right circle, Malkin forces a pass to Martin but Weaver is able to slide down and break it up.
11:24: Play returns to five-on-five.
10:49: The Panthers generate something with some hard work in the offensive zone and take another lead. Shawn Matthias and Scott Gomez control the puck down low on the Penguins' end boards with a cycle. Gomez is able get a little space on Bortuzzo and deals a pass to Versteeg in the right circle. Versteeg snaps off a one-timer by the blocker of Zatkoff on the far side. Orpik and Bortuzzo lost the battle on the boards, Brandon Sutter failed to cover Versteeg. And Zatkoff didn't seem prepared for that shot. Gomez and Matthias get assists. Panthers 2-1.
10:25: The officials send Jussi Jokinen to the bench for what appears to be an equipment adjustment. the NHL is making a point to be stricter with equipment rules this season. It appears to be something with Jokinen's elbow pads in this instance.
10:41: The Penguins get another chance at a power play as Matthias is nabbed for interference against the great Joe Vitale. Crosby, Malkin, Jokinen, Martin and Martin take the ice.
9:56: Crosby snap off a wrister from the slot. Markstrom fends it off.
8:41: Matthias returns to play. The Penguins did little with that chance.
8:20: It looks like the Penguins have switched things up a bit. Kobasew is on the fourth line with Craig Adams and the great Joe Vitale.
7:51: A heavy slapper by Gilbert from the center point is fended off by Zatkoff.
7:45: Gilbert snaps off a wrister from the right point. It hits a stick and deflects wide. Play is halted as Orpik and Jonathan Huberdeau are mixing it up in front of the blue paint. Both players are sent off for cross checking. It's another four-on-four situation.
7:40: Off another offensive zone faceoff win, Gilbert booms a one-timer from the right point. Zatkoff fights it off.
7:07: Another power play for the Penguins. Gilbert hauled down Niskanen along the Panthers' end boards. The Penguins will have a four-on-three power play for 1:22. Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin and Jokinen take the ice.
6:39: Off some back-and-fourth passing with Jokinen, Malkin launches a one-timer from the right circle which Markstom fights off.
5:44: As Orpik and Huberdeau return to play, Crosby deals a little pass off the right wing to Sutter in front of the cage. Sutter can't get a clean shot off.
5:31: Off a give and go with Crosby, Sutter drives to the cage with the puck on his backhander. Markstrom's big right leg fends it off.
5:07: The Gilbert minor expires. The Penguins had several chances on that power play.
5:03: Martin grips and rips a wrister from above the left circle which hits a body in front.
3:11: The Penguins the game with some hard work. Glass fends off a check by Gomez behind the Panthers' cage and whips a wrister into Markstrom. Markstrom kicks it out. Adams barges between Versteeg and Kulikov to poke the puck under Markstrom and into the cage. The fourth line produces again. It's Adam's third goal of the season. Glass and the great Joe Vitale each get assists. Panthers 2, Penguins 2.
1:51: A trick wrister by Jokinen from the left wing is wide on the near side.
1:07: Off a steal behind the Pengins' net, Gomze delas a pass to Versteeg in the left circle. Bortuzzo drops down and blocks the shot wide.
0:00: End of period. Panthers 2, Penguins 2.
-That was kind of a mixed bag for the Penguins. They had some good and some bad. They took advantage of the Panthers in some instances but were simply outworked in other cases.
-Zatkoff was okay. He probably could have made a save on the Versteeg goal but his teammates were outworked down low as the Panthers set up the chance.
-The Penguins' power play didn't look too sharp despite ample opportunities.
-The Penguins' fourth line has been really good thus far. It's created a few chances by simply hustling.
-Craig Adams. Harvard man:
-The Penguins have a 19-13 lead in shots.
-Gibert leads the game with five shots.
-Glass leads the Penguins with three shots.
-Gudbranson leads the game with 9:01 of ice time.
-Martin leads the Penguins with 8:31 of ice time.
-The Penguins control faceoffs, 16-9.
-Crosby was 8 for 13 (62 percent).
-Matthias was 2 for 3 (67 percent).
-Weaver, a former invitee to a Penguins training camp, leads the game with three blocked shots.
-None of the Penguins has more than one blocked shot.
-Fire Ray Shero.
19:13: Niskanen booms a slapper from the right point. It hits something on front.
18:32: From the right wing wall, Malkin deals a pass to Bennett inside the right dot. Bennett snaps off a wrister which goes wide to the far side.
17:41: Huberdeau sweeps a backhander from the left circle on net. Zatkoff fights it off.
17:15: Jokinen heads to the bench after taking a puck to the face.
17:10: A big one-timer by Gudbranson from the left point is snagged by Zatkoff.
16:51: Gudbranson sneaks a wrister from the left point on net. Zatkoff punches it away with his blocker.
15:56: Crosby takes a shift with Adams and Glass. Off some hard work along the end boards of the Florida zone by Glass and Crosby, Adams swats a one-timer from the right circle which Markstrom kicks out.
15:01: With Jokinen on the mend, Kobasew is on a line with Malkin and Bennett. Kobasew has a chance to the left of the cage but can't punch one by Markstrom.
14:12: Tomas Kopecky has an acre of ice to work with in the left circle. He lifts a wrister. Zatkoff makes the initial save but allows a poor rebound to his right. Martin is Johnny-on-the-spot and sweeps it away. Zatkoff owes Martin a beer.
14:04: Goc chops a slapper from the right point which sails wide to the far side.
13:52: Martin is nabbed for interference against his former Devils teammate Scott Gomez. Orpik, the great Joe Vitale, Adams and Rob Scuderi take the ice.
13:26: A tough spot for the Penguins. The great Joe Vitale trips up Versteeg on the right wing wall. The Penguins will have to face a five-on-three power play for 1:34. Orpik, Adams and Sutter take the ice.
12:58: A one-timer by Fleischmann from above the left circle is fought blocked by Sutter.
12:52: The Panther stake advantage of the two-man advantage. Felischmann gets his rebound back and daels to Versteeg along the glao line on the right wing. He plays wthe puck ab i and snaps off a wrister which squeaks through Zatkoff's left armpit and plops into the cage. That was a little bizarre. Regardless, it should have been stopped. The Panthers will still have 1:26 of a one-man advantage to work with it. Huberdeau gets credit for the goal. Versteeg and Fleischmann get assists. Panthers 3-2.
11:46: When it rains it pours. Barkov controls a puck below the goal line and plays it into the skates of Martin. It glances off Martin and deflects into the cage by Zatkoff's glove. It's another power play. goal. It's an unassisted goal. Panthers 4-2.
11:33: Crosby flings a backhander from the right wing. Markstrom fights it off. Crosby recovers the rebound and deals to Maatta on the left point. Maatta pounds aon-imer which Markstrom fends off. Kobasew is all over the rebound but can't punch a forehand shot by Markstrom's left leg.
10:36: Barch tries to hustle up the right wing with a puck and is flipped over on a vintage Rob Scuderi hip check.
8:13: Barkov challenges his friend Maatta one-on-one but loses the puck on a nice stick check by Maatta.
7:47: The Penguins get their own leaky goal. Crosby controls the puck down low on the left part of goal line and draws in Kulikov. That leaves Dupuis open in the left circle. Crosby sneaks a backhanded pass to Dupuis who lifts a wrister which sneaks through the equipment of Markstrom. We're not sure how that one went in. Crosby gets the only assist. Panthers 4-3.
6:17: After an icing call, the Panthers call a timeout to get a breather.
5:08: Fleischmann has wrister from the left circle blocked by Martin.
4:34: Kulikov booms a slapper from the right point wide on the near side.
4:04: Bennett rips a low wrister from the left wing. Markstrom fights it off.
3:59: Maatta cracks a one-timer from the left point but has it blocked in front.
3:49: Huberdeau tries to challenge Bortuzzo and Maatta one-on-two but is stripped of the puck for his troubles.
3:27: Versteeg snaps off a wrister from the right wing which Scuderi blocks.
1:26: A wrister by Bortuzzo from the right point is blocked by Campbell.
0:40: Jokinen tries to control the puck behind the Florida net but is knocked off it on a nice check by Kulikov.
0:06: Versteeg flings a wrister from the right wing which Zatkoff saves but bobbles just a bit.
0:00: End of period. Panthers 4, Penguins 3.
-That was once again a mixed bag for the Penguins. Some good. Some bad.
-The bad was obviously getting shredded on those two power plays. Defending a five-on-three is always tough but they looked particularly bad on that chance. The fourth goal off Martin's skate was mostly just bad luck.
-Zatkoff needs to prevent that power-play goal by Versteeg. That can't go in regardless of the circumstances.
-This third period will be a great test for him. Can he hold the fort with his team fighting to tie the game?
-The Penguins have a 28-22 lead in shots.
-Gilbert leads the game with five shots.
-Kobasew, Adams, Glass and Crosby each lead the Penguins with three shots.
-Campbell leads the game with 16:32 of ice time.
-Martin is right behind him with 16:14.
-The Penguins control faceoffs, 32-16 (67 percent).
-Crosby is 10 for 18 (56 percent).
-Matthias is 3 for 4 (75 percent).
-Weaver leads the game with three blocked shots.
-Fire Ray Shero.
-Scuderi and Orpik each lead the Penguins with two blocked shots.
19:43: Challenging Gilbert one-on-one, Crosby snaps off a wrister from the left circle. Markstrom kicks it out.
19:20: Barkov cracks a heavy one-timer from the right circle. Zatkoff steers it away.
18:44: Off a little feed by Malkin in tight, Bennett whacks a one-timer from the right circle. Markstrom says no.
16:47: Niskanen strikes a one-timer from the center point. It hits something in front. Dupuis has a chance on the rebound but is tied up by a Florida defender and can't get a stick on the puck.
14:59: A wrister by Jokinen from the left circle is wide on the near side.
13:52: Bortuzzo snaps off a wrister from the right point. It hits a body in front. Adams has a chance in tight but can't get a stick on the puck.
13:33: The Panther reclaim a two-goal lead. using Orpik as a screen, Fleischmann snaps off a wrister which clacks off the mask of Zatkoff and stuns him a bit. Fleischmann follows up on the rebound and pokes it by the blocker of Zatkoff. Orpik sort of played Fleischmann on the rebound but didn't really do an outstanding job at it. Zatkoff heads to the bench to have his mask checked out by equipment manager Dana Heinze. Barkov and Boyes get assists. Panthers 5-3.
12:56: Sprung loose on a mini breakaway, Kunitz has a wrister fought off by Markstrom.
12:30: From the right wing corner, Bennett plays a puck to the blue paint. Malkin is there but can't get a stick on the puck.
12:24: Matt Gilroy flings a wrister on net from the right half wall. Zatkoff knocks it dead and gloves the rebound.
11:55: Maatta booms a slapper from the center point. Markstrom kicks it out. Jokinen jabs the rebound back on net. Markstrom says no.
10:36: Off a little feed by Jeffrey from the right circle, Martin snaps off a wrister from the slot. Markstrom eats it up.
9:40: A writer by Kunitz in the right circle is blocked wide.
8:05: Huberdeau blocks a slapper by Martin from the right point.
7:56: Versteeg flips a backhander from the left wing corner. Zatkoff knocks it dead and covers.
5:28: Boyes whacks a one-timer from the left point which hits a skate or two before deflecting wide to the far side.
4:49: Dupuis teesup a slapper from the right circle. Markstrom fights it off.
4:40: Maatta has a slapper from the left point blocked in front.
4:12: Fleischmann has a chance at a breakaway but Martin is able to chase him down and prevent a clean backhander on net.
3:50: Kunitz tees up a slapper from the left point. Markstrom looks it in all the way and covers the puck to freeze play.
2:44: Weaver runs over Dupuis at the Penguins' blue line. Wow what a hit!
2:35: Crosby goes after Weaver and is penalized. He ended up tripping Weaver. That's two minutes for tripping. Not a smart play by Crosby. It's one thing to defend a teammate but he has essentially has put his team down by a skater for the rest of the game while down by two goals. Jeffrey, the great Joe Vitale, Martin and Orpik take the ice.
1:57: Campbell cranks a slapper from the left point which rings off the cross bar.
0:50: Fleischman rips a wrister from the left circle but has it fought off by Zatkoff.
0:33: The Panthers ice the game as Crosby's minor is killed. Barkov controls the puck to the right of the net and saucers a pass over a sliding Scuderi to Boyes to the left of the net. As Zatkoff is slow to react to the pass, Boyes is able to plunk it into the cage. That might have been the ugliest goal Zatkoff allowed all night. Barkov and Fleischmann get assists. Panthers 6-3.
0:03: Koasew lifts a wrister from abveo the left circle. Markstrom head-butts it away.
0:00: End of game. Panthers 6, Penguins 3.
-They weren't going to go undefeated.
-The big difference in this game was the special teams. The Panthers dominated them. The Panthers were 2 for 4 with the power play while the Penguins were 0 for 3. You won't win many games with a discrepancy like that.
-Goaltending was another big difference. The Panthers got the stops they needed from Markstrom who was tougher to beat as the game wore on. Zatkoff simply wasn't up to the task. He allowed some leaky goals. Sure, he was a little unlucky - the goal off his mask by Fleischmann was a little fluky as was the Aleksander Barkov score off Paul Martin's skates - but he needed to play better.
-It's not fair to rate Zatkoff on just one game, good or bad. He needs a larger sample size for a fair evaluation.
-Seemed like the Panthers did a good job with regards to match-ups. The Panthers were able to get the Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert pairing against the Penguins top line of Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz most of the night while the Mike Weaver-Dmitry Kulikov saw a lot of the Jussi Jokinen-Evgeni Malkin-Beau Bennett line. For the most part, they held the Penguins' top offensive players in check.
-The Penguins best line most of the night was the fourth line of Tanner Glass, the great Joe Vitale and Craig Adams. Great for those three but bad for the team. Most team's won't succeed when the fourth line is the best trio.
-The Panthers seemed to do a good job of really limiting the space the Jokinen-Malkin-Bennett line had to operate with. THe past two games, that line had a lot of ice to operate with and as a result, they were able to generate a lot of pretty scoring chances. Tonight, their scoring chances were a little more ugly. There wasn't nearly as much tape-to-tape passing.
-The Penguins' third line of Brandon Sutter, Dustin Jeffrey and Chuck Kobasew was a non-factor. They didn't seem to contribute much.
-Barkov looked really sharp tonight. He wasn't afraid to go near the net and create things. He looked legit tonight.
-Markstrom just has the Penguins number. In three career starts against them, he has stopped 92 of 100 shots for a .920 save percentage.
-Tomas Fleischmann has put up strong career numbers on the Penguins. He now has 20 points in 21 career games against them.
-Mike Weaver has carved out a nice existence with the Panthers after bouncing around the NHL in the early stages of his career. The Penguins brought him in as a free agent in 2007 but lost him to the Canucks through waivers. With Florida, he has become a top-four defenseman capable to playing upwards of 20-plus minutes a night in a shutdown role. He doesn't have marvelous physical abilities. He's listed as 5-foot-10, 180 pounds but that's generous. We're a generate 5-foot-9 on our drivers license and we've looked down to him when we've had the chance to interview him. Regardless of his stature, he's a tenacious and smart player who knows how to defend top talent.
-The Penguins had a 39-30 lead in shots.
-Fleischmann led the game with six shots.
-Chuck Kobasew led the Penguins with five shots.
-Campbell led the game with 25:41 of ice time.
-Paul Martin led the Penguins with 24:18 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 37-21 (64 percent).
-Crosby was 14 for 25 (56 percent).
-Shawn Matthias was 5 for 9 (56 percent).
-Weaver led the game with four blocked shots.
-Brooks Orpik led the Penguins with three blocked shots.
-EN Reader Dean Gethring made the trip to Florida and sent in this ice pic: