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Penguins stats corner: Niskanen shouldering defensive workload

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Penguins' blue line has taken a beating during the season, with Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin missing significant time due to injury, and Brooks Orpik on the shelf following Shawn Thornton's sneak attack Dec. 7. Entering Saturday, the Penguins' top four defensemen had played in just 67 percent of the club's games.

While their projected top defenders have spent as much time in the trainer's room as on the ice, the Penguins still have managed to surrender the fourth-fewest goals (2.2 per game). A resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury and the team's “left-wing lock” strategy deserve plenty of credit, but so does Matt Niskanen, who's enjoying a career year on defense at the best possible time.

Niskanen, an afterthought in the 2011 James Neal-Alex Goligoski deal with the Dallas Stars, was considered trade bait during the summer as the Penguins tried to wiggle under the salary cap. Instead, he's tied for the lead in Defensive Point Shares (DPS), which estimates the number of standings points a player contributes to his team by preventing opponents from scoring.

Sharing the load

Player Team DPS

Matt Niskanen Penguins 3.2

Andrei Markov Canadiens 3.2

P.K. Subban Canadiens 2.9

Kevin Bieksa Canucks 2.8

Niklas Kronwall Red Wings 2.7

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

The 27-year-old Niskanen is on pace for nearly eight Defensive Point Shares this season, which would shatter his previous career high of 5.4 set as a rookie with the Stars in 2007-08. Keeping up his current pace may be difficult, but Niskanen has a chance to set a new single-season franchise record for DPS, held by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy.

Player Year DPS

Larry Murphy 1992-93 6.2

Kris Letang 2010-11 5.7

Ron Stackhouse 1976-77 5.7

Ulf Samuelsson 1992-93 5.4

Ron Stackhouse 1978-79 5.3

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