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Penguins might miss Justin Schultz most in defensive zone

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Justin Schultz defends on Evgeni Malkin during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Justin Schultz has twice cracked double digits in goals and once surpassed the 50-point barrier in his NHL career.

He’s known as an offensive defenseman, and that label isn’t incorrect.

But when the Pittsburgh Penguins play their first game Tuesday night since Schultz had surgery to repair a broken leg that will sideline him four months, Olli Maatta thinks they might miss his play in the defensive zone even more.

“He’s a big part of our D corps,” Maatta said. “His defensive game is not appreciated enough, I don’t think. He’s pretty good down there too.

“He’s really good with his stick and I think he’s a smart player. He defends with his position. I think he can break out the puck pretty quick. He doesn’t spend much time there.”

Considered a liability in his own zone during his four years in Edmonton, he has rounded out his game with the Penguins. Last season, he led the team with a plus-22 rating. His rate of 2.24 goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time was best on the team among the six defensemen who played the most minutes.

“In the playoffs, he played against the top two lines. He played against some great players,” teammate Jamie Oleksiak said. “He can step up in that role. He’s good with his stick, really good positioning. He may not be the most physically demanding guy, but you don’t have to be. You can be in a place to take away a pass or take away another team’s opportunity. He’s so good at that.

“Sometimes offense is kind of a defense in its own. He holds onto the puck for so long, he’s so good at puck possession, that he doesn’t really give the other team a chance to hold onto the puck. He’s a full, all-around guy, I think.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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