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Martin's injury tests Penguins' defensive depth

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Niskanen defends on the Islanders' Michael Grabner during the second period Saturday, March 30, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Some have suggested in recent days that the Penguins have too much depth on their blue line.

Hockey purists maintain there is no such thing, and the Penguins are proof.

Defenseman Paul Martin likely will miss the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs because of a broken wrist suffered Thursday against Winnipeg. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that defenseman Kris Letang would miss up to 10 days with a broken toe.

Making the situation more dire, Letang and Martin are regulars on the power play and easily play the most minutes of any Penguins defensemen.

Like they have done under adversity during the Dan Bylsma era, the Penguins are simply shrugging off the latest injury news.

“And this is the kind of game that actually feels even better to win because of what all happened today,” defenseman Douglas Murray said after the Penguins' 2-0 win over the Islanders. “This is the time for guys to pick it up.”

Picking up ice time will be paramount.

Letang is ninth in the NHL in playing time at 25:30 per game, while Martin ranks 11th at 25:22 per game. The next closest defenseman on the Penguins roster is Brooks Orpik, who ranks 47th in the NHL at 22:45 per game.

“With Marty and Tanger out,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “No one is going to play 30 minutes. We aren't those kinds of players. We'll just have to do it by committee. We have to work together, that's' all.”

Working together certainly has been a theme for the Penguins' recent defensive work. Earlier in the season, the Penguins ranked in the bottom third of the NHL in goals against.

The Penguins have allowed just nine goals in their past 11 games and rank seventh in the NHL in goals against.

“It's defense by committee for us right now,” said defenseman Mark Eaton, whose presence has provided a lift for the Penguins' defensive core.

With Eaton in the lineup, the Penguins are 12-0 and allow 1.75 goals per game. Without Eaton this season, the Penguins are 16-9 and allow 2.63 goals per game.

“Everyone is forced to step up their game right now,” Eaton said. “No one is going to make up for the 25 minutes that Marty plays every night. It's just on everyone to play well.”

The Penguins can add more than $14 million in prorated salary-cap space before the Wednesday trade deadline, and general manager Ray Shero has not ruled out making more moves even though he acquired Murray to go with wingers Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla last week.

Bylsma indicated that, when Letang returns to the lineup, he will be paired with his old partner, Orpik. Martin and Orpik have formed a shutdown pair for the Penguins, but with Martin out, Orpik figures to see heavy ice time alongside Letang.

Bylsma also gave defenseman Simon Despres a vote of confidence. The rookie could see an expanded role.

“He's more than capable,” Bylsma said. “He's been a very good player. He's a guy that, from a defending standpoint and a physical standpoint, playing down low, he's been very good.”

Despres will get even more of a chance to impress the coaching staff next week.

Everyone on the blue line will have that chance.

“There will be rotating in terms of responsibilities over the next three, four or five games,” Bylsma said.

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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