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Power play just fine with Martin in charge

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Paul Martin is not Kris Letang.

He never will play with Letang's charisma nor match his physical attributes.

Letang's absence Thursday, however, made something clear: The power play is just fine in Martin's hands.

With Martin as the unit's quarterback, the Penguins moved the puck with precision against Washington, converting on three of four opportunities.

“That,” Penguins newcomer Dylan Reese said, “was the best power play I've ever seen.”

Whenever Letang returns to the lineup — he was the only Penguins player who didn't practice Friday at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. — he again will find himself on the top power play. Coach Dan Bylsma called Letang the unit's quarterback as recently as one week ago, and given that the power play is clicking at 29.3 percent, good for third in the NHL, there is no need for change.

Still, Martin's performance Thursday against Washington drew heavy praise. The veteran defenseman does not boast a powerful shot from the point, but his ability to quickly move the puck to the Penguins' gifted goal scorers was noted by many of his teammates following the 5-2 victory.

“I was impressed,” said James Neal, who already has four power play goals after leading the NHL with 18 last season. “It was just typical Marty. It's the way he goes about his play. He's an underrated defenseman. He's solid. He plays that way every night.”

Neal said that Martin's style on the power play meshes well with talents like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“Nothing crazy about his game,” Neal said. “But he gets the job done. He's deceptive with the puck. It's what he does every night. He doesn't have that big shot, but he makes those great passes.”

The Penguins' passing on the power play against the Capitals was particularly crisp. Martin twice moved the puck to Crosby while on the power play Thursday, and, only moments later, a goal was scored.

They exploded for all five of their goals — three on the power play — during the final 13 minutes of the second period. Bylsma wouldn't mind seeing that period duplicated sooner rather than later.

“It was probably our best couple of power plays of the year in that period,” Bylsma said. “We moved the puck crisply. We were dangerous.”

Bylsma, however, made it clear that Letang will remain on the top power play when he returns from a lower-body injury. He referenced the fact that the Penguins entered the Washington game with a 25-percent conversion rate as proof that the power play already was working.

Still, the coach was impressed with Martin's poise at the point.

“Paul was really good there tonight,” Bylsma said. “He had Geno and Sid on each side of him and distributed the puck very well. It was the big difference in the game.”

Crosby, Malkin and Neal all scored power-play goals.

On a night with Martin in charge, the power play worked.

“The next game we could go out and not score as many goals,” Crosby said. “You have to give yourself the best chance to score. The power play is all about results.”

The results against the Capitals couldn't have been much better.

“Marty was good,” Neal said. “Just like always.”

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