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Penguins' Martin returning to form

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 6:56 p.m.
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin plays stickhandles against the Rangers on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Penguins defenseman Paul Martin admitted in June that his first two years in Pittsburgh were so disappointing that, “If you had told me this is where my game would be after two years, I wouldn't have believed it.”

Year 3 has Martin making believers out of some of his critics.

With the Devils at Consol Energy Center for a Saturday matinee against the Penguins, Martin suddenly looks like the steady performer who started his career in New Jersey.

“I just think it's a confidence thing with him,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has joined forces with Martin in a formidable, defensive-minded pairing.

“The physical ability has always been there. Everyone knows that, and he is playing really well.”

Martin, who missed the final three games of the playoffs against Philadelphia because of a concussion that was suffered in Game 1 of that series, worked harder than he historically had during the summer.

Disappointed with his performance after signing a five-year, $25 million deal with the Penguins on July 1, 2010, Martin said a “sense of pride” compelled him to intensify summer workouts. He also added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason.

“I did a lot more this summer than I usually do,” Martin said. “I made sure I did extra. I have certain expectations for myself. Last year wasn't so great. I always put pressure on myself. I wanted this year to be different.”

So far, so good.

Martin scored the season's first goal for the Penguins, has been more of presence offensively and finds himself playing against the opposition's best players every game.

Coach Dan Bylsma decided to place Martin and Orpik together — they never were paired during the prior two seasons — and the results have been promising.

Unlike in his first two campaigns with the Penguins, Martin is successfully using his skating ability to remove the puck from danger when necessary. His decision-making has been solid.

“I think he's been great,” center Joe Vitale said. “He's just such a great skater, and I think people are seeing the real Paul Martin right now.”

Martin has been nearly flawless through seven games. He has been on the ice for only five goals against. Two of those were with the opposition on the power play and only one of the opposition's tallies — the New York Islanders' first goal Tuesday — could be blamed on Martin.

He is averaging 24:53 of ice time per game, the 21st highest total in the NHL and second on the Penguins behind defenseman Kris Letang.

Martin is gaining the trust of Bylsma, who recently said, “You guys (the media) talk about Paul more than we do,” an indication that the coaching staff likely regards his work more highly than those who were critical of Martin the past two seasons.

“Everyone knows Paulie is a great player,” said Rangers forward Arron Asham, who played with Martin the past two seasons. “He wanted to get back to being the player everyone knows he is. He'll have a great year.”

Orpik is impressed with Martin's poise.

“He had a lot of bad luck last year,” Orpik said. “It snowballed on him last season for some reason. That happens when you're in a slump.”

Although the season is only seven games old, the slump appears to be over.

“The summer was big for me,” Martin said. “It was a good summer. I really do feel better out there.”

Note: Chris Kunitz missed Friday's practice because of an illness.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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