Tag:Dan Bylsma
Posted on: December 28, 2011 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 2:14 pm
 

Sidney Crosby still suffering concussion symptoms

By Brian Stubits

For the first time in almost a month, the Pittsburgh Penguins have issued an update on Sidney Crosby's recovery effort. It's a little bit of good news, little bit of bad news.

The good news is that Crosby is working out with the team, even if they are of the "light" variety. That's what coach Dan Bylsma had to say on Tuesday.

The bad news, however, is a lot worse than the good news is good. Bylsma also shared that Crosby continues to experience concussion symptoms.

It has been just about a month since Crosby last played, a home loss against the Boston Bruins. It was his eighth game since returning from a 10-month absence due to two concussions he suffered in January. So the fact that he's still experiencing the symptoms is very discouraging.

The team has not announced that Crosby suffered another concussion, saying only that he passed the ImPACT test. That means it's possible that these are effects still being felt from his original concussions. Either that or he suffered another one and it wasn't detected, certainly a possibility.

We have learned our lesson already, it's pretty much impossible to put any kind of timeline on a recovery from a concussion, but it sounds like we're still a ways away from seeing Crosby back in game action.

More NHL Concussion News Here

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 21, 2011 2:12 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:18 pm
 

The most dangerous player in hockey right now

malkinBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is back, and right now it looks as if the Pittsburgh Penguins are his team.

When Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup last month the discussion immediately focussed on whether or not he could win the NHL's scoring title, despite missing the first 20-plus games of the season. As it turns out, Malkin is the Penguins forward we should have been looking at all along.

Thanks to his three-assist performance during a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, which came after a five-point destruction of the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, Malkin moved into a tie for the top spot in the NHL scoring race with 39 points, catching Toronto's Phil Kessel, despite missing six games of his own.

Right now there isn't a more dangerous offensive player in the league, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Penguins.

For the second year in a row the Pittsburgh roster has been crushed by injuries and on any given night has had some combination of Crosby, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, among many others, sidelined due to various ailments and injuries. Even with all of that, the team has a continued to pile up wins and stay near the top of the conference standings and have the look of a top Stanley Cup contender. Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly deserves a lot of credit for that, as does the Penguins front office, led by general manager Ray Shero, for having the type of organizational depth that allows the team to handle so many injuries to so many key players.

But it also doesn't hurt to have a player like Malkin, one of the most talented and skilled players in the world, that is always capable of taking over a game. And that's exactly what he's been doing for the Penguins this year. For much of this season he's been playing on a line with James Neal and free agent acquisition Steve Sullivan. When the Penguins acquired Neal last season it was done so under the assumption that he would eventually be the goal-scoring winger the Penguins have long been searching for to put alongside Crosby. But with Crosby missing so much time due to injury, Neal has found a home on Malkin's line, and along with Sullivan, have formed a trio that has been Pittsburgh's best on a nightly basis.

"I thought his line in particular, I know Geno is the big guy on that line, but their line played very well in the first," said Bylsma after Tuesday's game. "They attacked in every chance they got over the boards at 5-on-5, and on the power play. They were putting pucks behind and playing in the offensive zone and on the attack."

A couple of years ago Malkin was one of the players consistently mentioned in the "best player in the world" discussion, along with Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He won the scoring title during the 2008-09 season and then followed it up with a Conn Smythe performance in the postseason as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

But over the past two seasons his production dropped a bit, perhaps due to lingering injuries, and then he missed the last half of the 2010-11 campaign, as well as the playoffs, due to a knee injury that he suffered when Buffalo's Tyler Myers awkwardly fell on his leg during a game last January. Because Malkin has always played second chair in Pittsburgh to Crosby, the face of the franchise, his name has always been the one that's been brought up in absurd trade rumors and baseless speculation for a wide range of reasons (I've brought this up before, but just google "Evgeni Malkin Trade" and start reading), including but not always limited to salary cap concerns, the need to acquire a goal-scoring winger, and, well, pretty much anything that anybody could throw against the wall in the hopes that it would stick. It never did, and for good reason.

Even though Malkin is the "No. 2" center in Pittsburgh (it's probably more of a 1A and 1B deal) when the team is at 100 percent, he has always had a knack for elevating his game when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it during the 2007-08 season when Crosby missed extended time due to an ankle injury that came after he fell into the boards, and he's doing it again this season. On a per-game average he's actually scoring at a higher rate right now than he was during the '08-09 season when he won his Art Ross Trophy.

 "Geno has been a force offensively," said Bylsma on Tuesday. "But he's also a guy we're counting on to play against other teams top lines right now, and he's been good at both ends of the rink. He's been powerful and making plays and driving. He's going to have probably 10 scoring chances again with how he's dominating and how he's playing."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 12, 2011 1:03 pm
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:06 pm
 

Crosby still out, has 'no timetable' for return

By Brian Stubits

Just like that, Sidney Crosby watch is back on.

The Penguins announced last week they were going to withhold their superstar for two games as a precaution after Crosby said he wasn't feeling 100 percent following a loss to the Boston Bruins. We then shared that there were rumblings he could be out for longer than those two games.

That's definitely the case now. Caution will continue to be the word of the week as Crosby is going to remain on the sidelines for the time being.

"Not [feeling] bad," Crosby said. "I'm not happy about watching. But I have to make sure with these sort of things that I'm careful and making sure I'm 100 percent before coming back. No timetable."

"It's frustrating for Sid," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Sid knows his body better than anyone else. He's not feeling 100 percent. He'll return when he is 100."

If you're a Crosby and/or Penguins fan, you have to be worried about more post-concussion symptoms for the Kid.

"I did my ImPACT test and it went pretty good. That was a good sign. It's much different than previously going through that stuff. That was encouraging. I skated following day after with exertion. I just didn't feel right. After talking with everyone I figured it was better to be cautious and not take any chances. That's where I'm at right now.

"The ImPACT isn't everything. You have to listen to your body on these things too. That was encouraging. My ImPACT was much, much worse after I did it in January. This is something I have to be careful with."

If people weren't holding their breath before, they should be now.

"Yes [I've had symptoms the last couple days]. If I didn't I wouldn't be practicing.

"I've been doing light exertion stuff and seeing how that goes. It's that whole (recovery) routine again, but hopefully not as long. When I wasn't doing something for 6, 7 months that process was a little longer. Hopefully, that's not the case here."

When Crosby came back, the concerns people had didn't revolved around how he'd be as a player, but how he'd respond when he took another hit. The culprit in this case appears to be an inadvertent elbow to the head from David Krejci a week ago. While the tests didn't reveal a concussion, if he is feeling the symptoms again, it might as well be.

To scare Penguins fans even more, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out that a lot of players have passed the ImPACT test only to be diagnosed with a concussion later.

So that's one of many questions at this point. Did Crosby actually suffer another concussion or did he have a setback? Crosby doesn't know how a doctor would call it, but he knows how he labels it.

"I don't even think frustrating begins to describe it," Crosby said.

Could we be looking at another long absence before he's 100 percent and able to return?

"I have a pretty good idea of these things now and I know this is not where I was before, so that is encouraging," Crosby said.

It certainly is, but the question is how much further along is he? He said he's better than he was in August, but remember that he didn't come back until mid-November. So that means Crosby Watch is back on.

Unfortunately, this is likely how Crosby's career will go from now on. He'll never get over the concussions that kept him out for almost a year. He might one day physically, but the questions will forever persist any time that Crosby takes a hit.

Here is video of the full interview.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 8:30 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sanford, Jackets starting to roll

By Brian Stubits

Amid Columbus' awful, awful opening to the season, the only bit of defense the team and its fans had was something along the lines of waiting for everybody to be healthy. The team was built in the offseason around the additions of James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and for the first month and a half of the season; they had not played in the same game. Now they are both playing and the Blue Jackets are now winning.

But it was another injured player returning that has been even bigger. And this one wasn't really on anybody's excuse radar.

Turns out the return of goaltender Curtis Sanford has been huge. Or at least it would appear that way. It was no mystery that Steve Mason in goal was as big an issue as anything else in Columbus' struggles, but I am not sure anybody believed there was a possible solution within the organization.

It wasn't long ago that in this blog we were discussing the possibilities of the Blue Jackets getting a major shakeup in the front office and coaching staff. Some were just saying give it more time, all they needed was to trade for a good goalie. The only problem was the Jackets are right up against the cap and have no flexibility.

This feels as good as a trade right now.

In the five games prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Blues, all Sanford starts, the Blue Jackets picked up at least one point. His record is now 3-0-2 after Columbus' 5-1 beating of the Buffalo Sabres on Black Friday. He entered Sunday with a goals against average of 1.27 and a save percentage of .950. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The recent run has done what not long ago seemed laughable: the Jackets had climbed out of the NHL cellar. With the Devils' squeaker over the Devils on Saturday, the Jackets returned to the basement, but they are hot on the heels of the Isles, Ducks and Flames to move (or down) the draft lottery list.

But the big acquisitions have been doing their part, too. Carter, back after breaking his foot, is finally looking comfortable with his new team. With two beautiful assists against the Sabres, Carter brought his total to five points (3-2=5) in the last five games. Wisniewski has also recorded five points in that span as he also contributed two assists to the win on Friday.

However none of that would matter much if they weren't getting better goaltending. Now, with Sanford getting the bulk of the work, they are. It's not too late to crawl their way back into the picture, but a lot of that will ride on Sanford continuing to play at a level this high.

If he keeps those ice blue pads, maybe he will.

Hangover Part II

Much was made about the champion Bruins' hangover to start the season. They came out slower than any team not named the Blue Jackets. Of course, that's long-ago history as the Bruins have won 11 of the past 12 games, earning a point in all of them.

But not as much has been said about the Canucks' meager beginning. After all, this was the best team in the regular season last year and was within 60 minutes of winning the Stanley Cup. Like the Bruins, the Canucks returned the core of their team and were expected to be powerful once again. Yet they were merely average.

That might be changing. With a road trip that included a 5-0 domination of the Coyotes in a "packed" (with blue) Jobing.com Arena on Friday and a gritty 3-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday, the Canucks have won four in a row.

With the eight points in four games, they are now two points behind the Minnesota Wild, two points from reclaiming their seemingly rightful position atop the Northwest Division (they have lived in the Northwest penthouse for a few seasons).

In goal for each of those four games? That would be Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo. Schneider -- who had back-to-back shutouts in the four-game run -- was already seen by many to be the best backup in the game, rumored constantly in trade talks around the league over the last season-plus. Now the only goalie that Canucks fans want to throw around in those conversations is Luongo, the Vezina finalist from just last season.

There was already a goalie controversy in Vancouver even before Schneider began playing so well. The controversy? The fact that Luongo was the starter. That was enough to cause a civil war among the fans in British Columbia. This just makes it more heated.

It's show time

We got a taste of the Winter Classic on Saturday with the Flyers and Rangers waging battle in New York, a 2-0 Blueshirts win. Brandon Prust fought not once, but twice, much to the pleasure of John Tortorella.

It was also the first time this season that the league's highest-scoring offense, the Flyers, were grounded. It should come as no surprise that it was Henrik Lundqvist who was first to do it. They don't call him King Henrik for nothing.

But over the weekend, we also got our first taste of the HBO 24/7 series that's set to debut on Dec. 14. No, I'm not talking about the game, but HBO's 12-minute preview of the must-see show for hockey (and non-hockey) fans.

Warning: If you don't already have HBO in your cable/dish subscription plan, the following teaser might make you change your mind (video courtesy of nyrangersblog.com).

There wasn't even an appearance from Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery in this tease, so clearly they must be saving the best for the show, a refreshing change from movie trailers that show you the only good parts of the movie.

Glory Toews

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews isn't going anywhere anytime soon. If they have their way in Chicago, he'll retire in the black and red.

But if he were to change work addresses, he just might move to Southern California.

The Blackhawks took their turn at the SoCal double dip with a game Friday in Anaheim and Saturday in Los Angeles. What did Toews do? Oh just help the 'Hawks take both games with three goals and three assists. One of those goals came 1960s style with Toews parked in the crease without a helmet and scrambling to hammer home the loose puck.

I have no doubt that when this season is all said and done, Toews will have his say in the Hart Trophy conversation.

Real quickly on the Ducks, this is just too atrocious to leave out (from Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register: The Ducks have now lost six in a row, 12 of 13 and 15 of their last 17. No other word for that than horrendous.

Florida flurry

It's not even December yet and the intrastate rivals in Florida have already met five times. For the second time in the first two months, the Lightning and Panthers had a back-to-back set beginning in Sunrise and finishing in Tampa.

This time, it was the Bolts getting the better of the Cats. One massive reason was the play of Steven Stamkos. He had three goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Friday night, and an assist. He was the best player on the ice on Saturday, no questions asked.

It continues to amaze me how little attention Stammer seems to be generating. After all, he proved last year he's one of the top three scorers in the league. He has quietly amassed 14 goals and 10 assists this season. Yet there seems to be hardly a peep about him.

A few more four-point weekends for the Lightning and I'm sure he'll start getting his due.

Capital punishment

At this point I'm starting to think this will be a regular section in the Weekend Wrap. At least as long as the Capitals continue to play the way they have been.

With their 5-1 beating in Buffalo -- where the Sabres' Zack Kassian scored his first career NHL goal -- the Caps moved to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. In the past eight, it's been particularly awful.

Check out this stat from Stephen Whyno at the Washington Post. The Caps have now been outscored 34-17 in their past eight games. Minus-17 in the past eight? That's worthy of one big OUCH.

The upcoming week for the Caps has dates with the Blues and Penguins. So things might not get better quite yet.

Quote of the weekend

After the Penguins destroyed the Senators 6-3 and Sidney Crosby continued his stellar return with three assists, Sens forward Nick Foligno attacked Crosby for taking a headshot at him late in the game. He wasn't too happy with Sid, saying he was disappointed and more or less called Crosby a hypocrite.

While Crosby was quiet about the criticism, his coach Dan Bylsma wasn't. Here's what he had to say in response.

"We're talking about a player that bumped into our goalie three times. With the score 5-1 and intentionally going into our goalie, he can expect more than Sidney Crosby coming at him and talking to him during the game. That's how we feel about those situations. He was in our net falling over our goalie, and I don't think there was any question about the intent."

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:53 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:43 am
 

Tracking Crosby: How he was utilized in debut



By: Adam Gretz

One of the biggest questions heading into Monday's Penguins and Islanders game was the number of minutes Sidney Crosby would play. The early estimates started off as low as 12 or 13, while it was pretty much a given that he wouldn't see anywhere near the 20 or 21 minutes he's averaged throughout his career.

When all was said and done, Crosby ended up playing a total of 15 minutes and 54 seconds over 21 shifts.

Here's how it looked:

Even-Strength Ice Time (11:29) -- When the Penguins acquired James Neal last season it was pretty much assumed that it was done for the purpose of eventually putting him with Crosby. And who knows, that may very well happen at some point. But with the way Neal has developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, the Penguins are apparently in no hurry to break up a line that's working. So for the majority of his 21 shifts on Monday, Crosby centered the Penguins' top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, as he has done throughout much of the previous two seasons. During those 11 minutes he recorded seven shots on goal (an incredible rate), scoring both of his goals, while also assisting on Brooks Orpik's second goal of the season. He also managed to draw a penalty when Milan Jurcina was sent off for cross-checking in the first period.

More on Sidney Crosby

Power Play Ice Time (4:23) -- During the Penguins' four power plays Bylsma responded each time by sending Crosby's unit out there to open the shift in the offensive zone. The Penguins power play, which struggled to score goals last season and through their opening round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, ended up finishing the night 1-for-4 with Crosby assisting on Malkin's power play tally at the 3:17 mark of the second period.

Faceoffs And Zone Starts -- When asked how conscious he was of where Crosby's shifts were starting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded with, "I wasn't that conscious of that situation, more of the opponent he was playing against. However, he was winning a lot of his draws and When we could get him out there in that situation to win draws we did do that. He ends the game winning 15 of his draws, that's a lot. He picked up kind of where he left so we were using him in that situation."

Crosby ended the night winning 15 of his 21 faceoffs, a success rate of over 67 percent. This is one area of his game that Crosby made huge improvements in over the past two seasons and Bylsma utilized him in all three zones:

Offensive Zone Faceoffs: Seven (4-for-7 on faceoffs)
Neutral Zone Faceoffs: Six (5-for-6 on faceoffs)
Defensive Zone Faceoffs: Eight (6-for-8 on faceoffs)

Given that the Penguins were the home team and had the last line change, they were able to dictate who was out there against him for the most part, and did a good job of having him avoid New York's top defenseman, Mark Streit, as well as avoiding the Islanders' best defensive forward, Frans Nielsen, during even strength situations.

His most common opponent in the faceoff circle was Josh Bailey, whom he beat on four of eight draws. He was 5-for-5 against Nielsen, with all of them coming on the power play, and 4-for-6 against Marty Reasoner.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:34 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 11:43 am
 

Crosby's ice time could be limited on Monday

By: Adam Gretz

When Sidney Crosby was at the top of his game in recent seasons it wasn't uncommon to see the Penguins send him out on the ice for well over 21, 22 or even 23 minutes per game. Seeing as how he hasn't played in a game since Feb. 5 of last season, and is coming back from a rather significant concussion, he's probably not going to be counted on for that sort of workload on Monday when he returns to the ice against the New York Islanders.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was asked on Sunday evening whether or not Crosby's ice-time would be limited in his first game back, and as expected, it will definitely be monitored.

"In talking with players that are returning there's always a period of getting back to where your game is at," said Bylsma. "I think Sidney's adrenaline is going to be going so high tomorrow, I think he's going to be tired out a little bit quicker than he normally would. He thinks maybe he's only going to be able to play 12 minutes, and I laugh because when Sidney Crosby gets to 12 minutes, he's certainly going to want the 13th minute. I'm not sure what that number might be, but we're certainly not rushing back to 20 minutes like we did before."

Bylsma also added that depending on what happens during the game, such as the number of minutes the Penguins spend on the power play, there are situations that could result in his playing time being a bit higher than expected. He also added on Monday following the Penguins' morning skate that there isn't a predetermined number of minutes, and that the game will dictate the number of minutes he plays.
More on Crosby's Return


Crosby's return is, obviously, being greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm in Pittsburgh and around the NHL, and expectations are already through the roof. There's even been some discussion as to whether or not he can still compete for the NHL's scoring title this season despite being nearly 20 games behind the rest of the league. Just to put a number on that, if we assume that the NHL scoring lead will fall somewhere in the area of 105 points, he would need to average nearly 1.69 points per game. He was averaging 1.61 last season, which was the highest mark of his career, before being sidelined.

Expecting that level of play right off the start is expecting too much.

He hasn't played in nearly a full calendar year and is coming off a significant injury. And for as talented as he is, you have to think there's going to be an adjustment period. Try and forget about scoring titles and point totals for right now and just try to take it one game at a time in the beginning.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 20, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 11:34 am
 

Sidney Crosby to return to Pens for Monday game

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins have announced the wait is over, Sidney Crosby will finally return to the lineup on Monday against the New York Islanders.

And the hockey world cheered.

"He's excited and anxious," coach Dan Bylsma said on a conference call Sunday. "I think the building's going to be going crazy."

When he returns, he'll be playing on a line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, the players Bylsma said Crosby is the most comfortable with.

But don't expect too much from him in Game 1. Byslma said Crosby told him that he'll likely only be able to play 12 minutes, prompting Bylsma to laugh.

"Sidney's adrenaline will be going so high," Bylsma said. "When Sidney Crosby gets to 12 minutes, he's certainly going to want the 13th minute."

You'll be able to watch the game on Versus (or CBC for our Canadian friends) as the American network has swapped from Canadiens-Bruins to the return of Sid.

Crosby has been out of the lineup since January 5 when he suffered a second concussion in as many games. Since then, it has been a long and twisting road to his return with the hockey world waiting with bated breath for the return of arguably the NHL's top player. The wait is over.

It's a development that's exciting to everybody in the NHL. The fans of the game (and the Penguins, of course) are thrilled to have Crosby back on the ice. The rest of the people like Jeremy Roenick are happy the speculating and anticipating is done with.

Crosby was cleared for contact on Oct. 13 and has since been going through the normal rigors of practices with his teammates as well as traveling with the team in recent weeks. For the past two or three weeks Crosby has more or less been day-to-day and for their part, the Penguins have been very good keeping everybody up to date, announcing the day before the game if Crosby would be playing or not.

Pittsburgh will obviously welcome Crosby back with open arms, but it's not as if the team has struggled in his absence. They are still in first place of the Atlantic Division (tied with Philadelphia) with Crosby out. Assuming Crosby returns to his old form -- and there is no reason to believe he won't -- the Penguins are the favorite to win the East, something many people already considered them to be.

Before he went down with the concussions last season, Crosby played exactly have a season -- 41 games -- and had 32 goals plus 34 assists. So now the question becomes how many points will Crosby score this season?

Pittsburgh has 62 games left on its schedule. So assuming Crosby will play in most if not all of those games, I'm going to cautiously set the over/under at 65 points. Under normal circumstances, most everybody would take the over on that, but there remains some uncertainty on how Crosby will perform when he comes back on the ice.

Considering how careful the Penguins were with Crosby throughout his entire recovery, it's difficult to imagine that he won't becoming back near 100 percent physically. He's been practicing for a long time with the team, so perhaps there won't be a lot of rust to shake off. The most interesting part will be seeing how he reacts to playing by the boards and after taking his first couple of hits.

Oh, and if anybody wants to take a run at Crosby now that he's back, I'd like to remind would-be checkers that the Penguins just recalled Steve MacIntyre from the AHL and, well, he can fight.

"We know what he means to this team, this city," defenseman Kris Letang said. "He's a special player."

And what he means to the NHL. Like him or not, this is great news for the league.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 8:47 am
 

What's wrong with Paul Martin?

By: Adam Gretz

In an effort to improve their overall team defense prior to last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made two significant investments on their blue line by signing two of the top free agent defenseman that were available on the open market -- Paul Martin, who had spent the previous six years of his career with the New Jersey Devils, and Zbynek Michalek coming off a five-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Combined, the Penguins committed a total of $45 million over five years to the two rearguards, and the results on the ice spoke for themselves in their first year with the team. The Penguins went from being 20th in the NHL in goals allowed during the 2009-10 season, all the way up to 6th best in 2010-11, while allowing nearly a half-goal fewer per game. That's no small improvement, and the additions of Martin and Michalek were a vital part of it.

Through the first 19 games of this season, Martin has had an up-and-down campaign and seems to be facing a growing amount of criticism from the Penguins' fan base for his minus-10 rating entering play on Saturday. That is currently the worst mark on the team and the second-worst mark in the NHL among all defensemen, ahead of only Colorado's Jan Hejda. When you're counting $5 million against the salary cap and near the bottom of the NHL in any category it's going to draw some attention, and hey, every fan-base needs its whipping boy.

So what's wrong with Paul Martin, and is he playing as poorly as the usually misleading plus/minus would suggest?

Nothing that can't be fixed, and not exactly.

So why is his plus/minus currently getting slaughtered? In its simplest terms, plus/minus, in general, and as honestly as it can be said, sucks as a useful measuring stick for the quality of play from a player, and offers little context in to what is going on with the player in question (who is he playing against? What situation is he playing in? Etc.). So let's try and add some context, if we can, and try to better understand his role with two main points that are, in a way, connected to one another.

1) The Penguins aren't scoring goals when Martin is on the ice

And yes, as a player that's on the ice, Martin does have to take some responsibility for this. But it's not going to continue. At least, it shouldn't be expected to continue.

During 5-on-5 play this season the Penguins have scored just four goals with Martin on the ice, which is an extremely low number, especially when you consider the number of minutes he plays. A lack of goals at even strength will obviously have a negative impact on a players rating, and this should not be expected to continue, for this reason: The Penguins, as a team, are shooting just a little over 2 percent when Martin is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, a rate that is unsustainably low over the course of the season.

Of the 536 players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season, only 12 of them have been on the ice for a lower shooting percentage. Look at it another way: If you go back to last season and take the players that played at least half the season in the NHL (40 games), the lowest on-ice shooting percentage belonged to Anaheim's George Parros at 2.54 percent, and he was one of only two players (the other was New Jersey's Adam Mair) that were on the ice for a team shooting percentage of below 3 percent. Over the past four years Martin's teams in Pittsburgh and New Jersey have shot no worse than 7.4 percent over the course of the season with him on the ice.

When you're talking about a player as talented as Martin, playing on a team that scores as often as the Penguins do, eventually, over time, these percentages are going to start work out for Martin, especially when the Penguins generate as many shots on goal as they do with him on the ice.

2) He's playing more minutes than any other player on the team, and he's being asked to play some of the "toughest" minutes on the team

Due to various injuries, including Michalek and Brooks Orpik, as well as a two-game suspension to Kris Letang, Martin has played significantly more minutes than any other player on the team. Entering Saturday he's at 464 overall minutes, 351 of which have come during even-strength play. Letang is the only other player on the team to crack the 300-minute mark at even-strength, while no other player is over 285. Not only is he playing more often than everybody else, he's playing in significantly more difficult situations.

You can tell a lot about a player, and what that player's coach thinks of him, by the situations he's put into. This season Dan Bylsma and his staff are giving Martin some of the tougher assignments in the NHL, and definitely the toughest assignments on the team. Consider his QualComp (Quality of Competition -- the higher the number, the tougher the competition) numbers and the limited number of Offensive Zone face-offs he's been on the ice for.

Assignments For Penguins Defensemen
Player Even-Strength Minutes QualComp Offensive Zone Starts % On-Ice Shooting % +/-
Paul Martin 351:22 .091 46.1% 2.40% -10
Kris Letang 333:16 .065 48.3% 8.09% +1
Deryk Engelland 285:02 .006 53.4% 8.63% +1
Matt Niskanen 274:22 -.034 56.9% 8.80% +5
Brooks Orpik 207:30 .172 48.3% 8.91% +2
Zbynek Michalek 180:40 .063 51.0% 2.22% -5
Ben Lovejoy 154:43 -.060 56.2% 8.43% +1

The only Penguins defensemen that's seen tougher competition is Orpik, while no other defensemen has started fewer shifts in the offensive zone.

Martin's game has definitely hit a bit of a rough patch over the past couple of weeks, and he's had his moments where he's been beat by opposing players one-on-one. But there's also a lot of things working against him right now, including some bad luck (hello, unsustainably low shooting percentage) and playing some of the heaviest minutes on the team, and playing a lot of them.

That's an extremely difficult role. Playing against the other team's best players and starting most of your shifts in your own zone (defensive zone faceoffs are dangerous) is a difficult task for any player, and will have an impact on your ability to score, as well as the other team's ability to score against you. Players that play the most minutes against the best players in the toughest spots will see the more goals scored against them and have a more difficult time scoring goals.

Take another look at the above table and look at the quality of players Matt Niskanen, for example, plays against, and the number of shifts he gets to start in the offensive zone. He's a team-best plus-five this season. No disrespect to Niskanen intended, but there isn't a coach or GM in the NHL that would take him over Martin, now, or at any other point. Give Martin those minutes and assignments, and vice versa, and see what their ratings look like.

I went back and looked at every goal that's been scored against the Penguins this season that would count against his plus/minus, and there's some pretty fascinating things in there. On at least two of them the Penguins were stopped on prime scoring chances at the other end of the ice before the play went back the other way and resulted in a goal at the other end. On one of them his defensive partner, Michalek, fell down on the opening face-off in Winnipeg which resulted in a flukey turnover -- and goal -- eight seconds into regulation.

None of this is likely to change the opinion of the person that takes his plus/minus rating as gospel, but if you think he's currently the second-worst defenseman in the NHL, or somehow not worth the cap hit to the Penguins, you're simply wrong.

The Penguins defense is a critical part of their success, and Martin is, and will continue to be, a key cog in that machine.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet)

Photo: Getty Images

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