'Understated' Martin Stalwart of Penguins Defense
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin is quiet.
On and off the ice, Martin does not command attention in the same way as Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or even fellow defenseman Kris Letang. But he has possibly been Pittsburgh's most consistent performer entering Game 5 of its Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"Paul's play is understated at best," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's not dynamic, not attention-grabbing, but he's been every bit of a shutdown guy for our team in every situation, playing against other teams' top guys, and he's done really an outstanding job for us throughout these playoffs."
The Penguins were plagued by injuries throughout the regular season, including two to Martin that caused him to miss 45 games. It wasn't clear how much Martin's loss impacted Pittsburgh's lineup, because they were also without defensemen Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and Letang during different stretches.
But Martin's importance has become evident over the past few weeks.
After Orpik sustained his first of two undisclosed injuries in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 4 of Pittsburgh's Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins defensive pairings went through another set of adjustments. Letang, who was struggling alongside Scuderi, was placed with Martin, and they quickly became Pittsburgh's most reliable pair.
Letang, who is recognized as one of the NHL's better offensive-minded defenseman, began to play a more defensive-oriented game influenced by Martin, which positively affected his production late in the first round and through the first four games of the second.
"He's huge. He's been huge all playoffs long," Letang said. "He's a really calm guy on the back end. He's really poised with the puck, plays big minutes against top guys. He does everything well on the ice, so he's been a huge asset for us."
Martin didn't take credit for his partner's resurgence. Instead, he credited Letang's determination for his recent success after returning from a stroke suffered in late January.
"When you first come back, especially with something as serious as he had to keep him out of the lineup, you're thinking a little bit," Martin said. "You want to make the right play and that takes a while to get into the flow of the game and I think for him, as the playoffs have come along, he's just done that.
"He's played and he's got in the flow of the game, and eventually his instincts are going to take over once he relaxes and plays."
Martin is rarely found on highlight reels. His only standout play came in Game 3 against the Rangers when he broke up a 2-on-1 by sliding on his stomach while flailing his arms from above his head to his side.
His play is not valued in its flash. Martin played 30:05 Wednesday in Pittsburgh's 4-2 Game 4 win, which gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, at Madison Square Garden after Orpik suffered another undisclosed injury in the first period of his first game back.
That was 4:02 less than his highest total of the postseason, with 34:07 in a Game 2 overtime loss to Columbus.
"I think it's tough," Martin said. "We were all pretty excited to get [Orpik] back, and then to have him go down in the first was tough for us. As a group, as a whole, our D stepped up and took short shifts. Our forwards helped out a lot, so I think the minutes were an easier 30 minutes than I think you would expect.
"But I think sometimes when you play more, you get into the flow of the game and you just use instinct to just play, and I think that might've been the case."
Martin has made offensive contributions, and he has found a way to become one of the Penguins' more productive performers, with eight points, four behind Malkin for the team lead and one behind Crosby and forward Jussi Jokinen for second.
The power play has been Martin's primary source. He had three power-play assists in the first round and scored two points in each of the series' first four games.
The 33-year-old, who was criticized throughout his lackluster first season with Pittsburgh in 2010-11 after six seasons with the New Jersey Devils, doesn't have a point since, but remains the Penguins' stalwart along the blue line.
"He's also been on the offensive side of things, leading the way certainly in the first series," Bylsma said. "But [in Game 4 against New York], getting down to the five defensemen right at the end of the first period, we even were down to four defensemen where we had an equipment problem where Kris Letang left the ice for about seven minutes and we were down to four.
"The minutes he logged, the situation he was in, was just outstanding for our team."