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Orpik's veteran presence steadies Penguins

| Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

BOSTON -- He was half-joking, but to know Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik at all is to appreciate that he finds humor in the truth.

So a week ago today, after the Penguins allowed the Boston Bruins to stage a comeback victory in the third period at Consol Energy Center for the second time, Orpik was not surprised to notice the local media had gathered at his dressing-room stall.

"Everybody only wants to talk to me after a loss," he said before answering questions.

The truth is Orpik had been making that joke for several weeks. Only last Monday did it seem to strike a chord with local media members, who have come to appreciate on his honesty and candor after games.

"For the most part, it's always him being the guy who can handle that," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said of Orpik's state-of-the-team postgame assessments over the years. "Besides (center Sidney Crosby), it's Brooks carrying the voice for this team -- and it's always him voicing what he sees as problems.

"It's not just for the people that read. It's for the guys in our room. We need it."

This season the Penguins needed more from Orpik, the long-established team conscience who has become the rock-steady leader of a team that is the NHL's fourth best in average goals allowed.

Martin is one of four defensemen new to the Penguins. An offseason overhaul brought him and Zbynek Michalek in as free agents; saw the promotions of prospects Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy; and expanded roles and increased responsibilities for young, skilled defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.

Orpik, 30 and the Penguins' longest-tenured player, is also the oldest. He played all of last season with a torso injury that required offseason surgery, which limited his usually heavy training schedule.

Still, his seventh full NHL season is proving to be his finest.

He has averaged nearly four short-handed minutes for the NHL's top penalty kill, yet he is a plus-13. He also remains a big hitter. His pace for 220 would give him at least that many for a fifth straight season.

His hit totals have decreased each of the past three seasons, and 220 would be his lowest in six seasons.

The proper read of that statistical trend is that Orpik has gradually transformed himself from a big bopper to a defensive stopper. He has been on the ice for only 29 goals allowed by the Penguins this season.

"He's maybe one of our more consistent performers," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's what he brings, his foundation: a good, sound defensive player; good skating and a physical presence; and he brings that very consistently.

"As a partner, you get a lot of the same from him every night."

His partner the past three seasons was Sergei Gonchar, one of the most accomplished offensive defensemen in franchise history. Gonchar, who signed with Ottawa over the summer, averaged 0.82 points per game with Orpik as his partner.

Letang has mostly partnered with Orpik this season and has averaged a career-best 0.87 points this season, which could result in a Norris Trophy nomination as the league's best defensemen.

Gonchar was a tested veteran when he joined up with Orpik. Letang is in his fourth full season.

He described Orpik's play this season as "unbelievable," but it sounds like that term also fits their on-ice chemistry.

"He talks a lot on the ice, and for me it's so easy to play (with him) because he steps up every play," Letang said. "He hits guys in the defensive zone, and that allows me to have more time with the puck. It's a silent game, but it's effective.

"He's tough to play against. He hits really hard. He's a good skater. His transition with the puck is great. I don't think there is any aspect of his game that is weak right now."

Note: The Penguins sent forward Dustin Jeffrey back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

Additional Information:

Consistent presence

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is turning in perhaps his finest NHL season. A look at his rank in some key defensive stats among players at his position:

Category -- Orpik total -- NHL rank

Hits -- 116 -- 7th

Plus/minus -- 13 -- 16th

Short-handed time on ice (avg.) -- 3:51 -- 4th

» Source: m

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