TORONTO – He’s only played four games in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform, but newcomer Matt Niskanen is making a good impression.
The defenceman, acquired less than two weeks ago from the Dallas Stars, was involved in both his team’s goals as the Penguins fell 3-2 in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Niskanen fired a first-period slapshot past Leafs goalie James Reimer to open the scoring, then helped put the Pens up 2-1 in the second with a long, breakaway pass that Chris Conner converted.
It was not only Niskanen’s first goal of the season but his first as a Pen.
“It’s been a long time coming, I guess,”he grinned.
Pittsburgh’s line-up has been ravaged by injuries, including a couple on the blue-line, opening the door for the 24-year-old Niskanen to immediately assume an important role on the team.
So far, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma says he likes what he sees and that extends beyond the offensive contributions.
“Tonight, I thought he was outstanding in a lot of areas, not just scoring the goal and the play he made up to Chris Conner,”Bylsma said.“He was good against the rush, he blocked a key shot late in the game. I thought he played a very solid game tonight and I think maybe he’s opening a few eyes to what he can do on the ice.
“He’s been real solid and he’ll keep getting minutes like that if he plays like that.”
Defenceman Paul Martin, who returned Wednesday after missing three contests with an undisclosed injury, also thinks Niskanen can take advantage of his new opportunity.
“There’s always a little curve when you get traded and he played great tonight and he’s been getting better each game,”he said.“He’s a great player and maybe it was time for him to change spots. Now he’s here and I think we’re going to start to see how good he is.”
Niskanen came to Pittsburgh with winger James Neal in exchange for defenceman Alex Goligoski. While Neal was the key to the deal from Pittsburgh’s perspective, Niskanen–picked 28th overall by Dallas in 2005–also brings some upside.
He scored 35 points two seasons ago, but had fallen on hard times in Texas this year, missing some games with a hand injury and another handful as a healthy scratch. Niskanen said he prides himself on his puck-moving ability and is excited for the chance to re-establish his mobile, two-way game with the Pens.
“That’s what I’m shooting for,”he said.“I’ve done it in the past, a couple of years ago I had a real good season offensively. So I’m working to get back to that and continue to improve my overall game.”