Penguins weigh upgrade to defense after collapse
If the Penguins are lucky, the number will only plague them for the summer.
The truth is, it could consume them for much longer.
The team that spent $17 million on its defensive core this season and that boasts one of the most accomplished goaltenders of this generation permitted 30 goals in a six-game stretch to the Flyers that still has the organization stunned.
“I wish I could tell you what happened,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Wish I had an answer.”
The Flyers certainly boast a talented offensive squad — “I don't think anyone has given Philadelphia the credit they deserve,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said — but still, such numbers were retired during the offensive explosion in the 1980s.
The Penguins permitted goals in every possible way. Philadelphia registered 12 power-play goals, three short-handed goals and 15 even-strength goals.
General manager Ray Shero realizes his team never gave itself a chance by permitting so many goals.
“When we talk about our defense,” Shero said, “when you give up 30 goals in six games in a playoff series, that's not good.”
Although goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was far from his best in this series, the Penguins' blue line is under heavy scrutiny. In particular, the two highest-paid defensemen — Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek — are being bombarded by fans and media alike for their shortcomings.
General manager Ray Shero defended the duo in a big way.
“When we signed Paul and Zbynek Michalek (in 2010), we went from 20th in goals against to sixth in the league,” Shero said. “They were a big part of that.”
Three seasons remain on the expensive deals given to Martin and Michalek.
“Both players are really good players in this league,” Shero said. “They've proven that over the course of their careers. Paul Martin was, over his last 20 games of the regular season, a plus-13.”
A cynic would note Martin's numbers improved dramatically around the time he was paired with star defenseman Kris Letang.
Michalek and Brooks Orpik, meanwhile, never found a groove as a defensive pair. A member of the Penguins' organization told the Tribune-Review in January that the duo of Letang and Orpik would not be separated because of its effectiveness.
However, Martin and Michalek struggled so mightily together that the move was ultimately made.
Now, maybe changes will be made.
“When we talk about defense,” Shero said, “it's all six guys on the ice. Over the last 11 games of the season, it failed us.”
Letang, Orpik, Martin, Michalek, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy are all locked into contracts through at least next season.
Only Matt Niskanen — who excelled at both ends of the rink this season — is a restricted free agent, and he badly wants to return to the Penguins.
“I play my best here,” Niskanen said. “I hope I'm back.”
Just who will be back remains a loaded question entering the offseason.
“We'll see what happens,” Shero said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Despres is relishing his regular role on Penguins’ blue line
- Penguins notebook: Malkin picture muddy
- Healthy again, Penguins’ Dupuis eager for game action
- Penguins notebook: Wild beat Pens behind Pominville’s hat trick
- Penguins notebook: Scuderi OK with new defensive system
- With analytics, NHL is whole new game
- Penguins trim training camp roster
- Penguins notebook: Consol ice still a matter of concern
- Penguins’ Kapanen impressing under tutelage of Maatta
- Penguins blanked at Columbus, 2-0
- Veteran right winger Adams fighting for roster spot with Penguins