Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley fell to the ice in pain midway through Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, crawled to the front of the net wincing and was unable to put any pressure on his left leg while leaving the ice. The optics of Daley’s injury had Penguins fans thinking the worst, and those fears were confirmed Sunday.
When Penguins coach Mike Sullivan addressed the media Sunday, he announced that Daley, 32, will be out for Game 5 and is done for the post-season after suffering a broken ankle. In Daley’s place will be 21-year-old Olli Maatta, who has been a healthy scratch for the past three games of the post-season. Sullivan said he’s confident in the youngster, but acknowledged how tough Daley will be to replace.
“He's really made our team a better team,” Sullivan said. “(Daley’s) a mobile guy. He can move the puck. He's got real good offensive instincts. He's a real solid two-way defenseman, and it's hard to replace those guys, but we've done it all year, and we'll deal with it again.”
Sullivan added that he feels awful for Daley on a personal level, as the veteran defenseman has had a tough season that saw him traded from the Dallas Stars — the only team he had ever played for — in the off-season only to not fit with the Chicago Blackhawks to the extent he asked for a trade from the organization. And since Daley arrived in Pittsburgh, he’s had one of the best campaigns of his career.
Daley had six goals and 22 points in 53 regular season games with the Penguins, but he saw his ice time skyrocket from less than 15 minutes per game with Chicago to 20-plus minutes per outing in Pittsburgh. During the post-season, he’s been just as important to the Penguins’ defense. Through 15 games, he’s averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time per game and contributed a goal and six points. Only Kris Letang has had a higher average ice time among Penguins blueliners.
As for Maatta, his reinsertion into the lineup will see him get conference final action for the first time since Game 1 of the series. Maatta skated only 13:23 in that contest, was on the ice for the Lightning��s opening goal in that game and he saw the ice less and less as the game wore on. Sullivan said he’s confident in what Maatta brings, though, saying the young defenseman has seen big-game action and has been an important part of the blueline this past season.
“Olli is a real good player,” Sullivan said Saturday. “He’s played in key situations for us all year. He's been a top four defenseman for us for most of the year. We believe in him…We know, when you go this deep in the playoffs, you need your whole team, in the true sense of the word, to have success. So we're fortunate to have the depth that we have at that position, and if we have to put somebody into the lineup, someone like Olli can help us win, we know that.”