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Penguins defenseman feeling heat

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By Josh Yohe
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011
 

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Is Penguins defenseman Paul Martin a $5 million problem or a $5 million player?

The statistics indicate that Martin has been a weak link on one of the NHL's best defensive groups. Coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden, however, vehemently came to Martin's defense during the Penguins' Florida swing. Both believe his current funk will pass and that Martin remains an essential ingredient to the Penguins' success on the blue line despite being a minus-10 through 19 games.

"That's not a great number for him right now," Bylsma said. "But I'm not going to be surprised if, at Game 40, he's even."

Martin, one of the NHL's smoothest skating defensemen, has lost an uncharacteristic number of 1-on-1 battles in recent games. The low point likely came Tuesday night, when Colorado's David Jones abused Martin while scoring a goal.

The defenseman, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Penguins 16 months ago, acknowledged that his play has been subpar.

"Obviously when the team is winning, you want to be a reason why," Martin said. "Plus-minus is a deceiving statistic, but the higher it gets, the more you pay attention to it. I've been around long enough to know when it matters and when it doesn't. It's early, but I'm obviously not playing as well as I'd like."

Martin avoided a couple of reasonable excuses. He did start last season slowly before playing solid defense down the stretch, and he's been forced to play the past four weeks without defensive partner Zbynek Michalek, who remains out with a broken finger.

"Personally," Martin said, "it shouldn't matter who you're playing with. I just need to play better."

Reirden, who oversees the defensemen, said Martin's unbecoming plus-minus total has been blown out of proportion.

"Paul does a lot of things that have allowed us to be in the spot we're at in the standings," Reirden said. "He does things that aren't measured by stats."

Martin's effortless skating likely does understate facets of his game that are elite, namely his ability to efficiently collect the puck in his own territory and trigger the Penguins' transition game.

Still, Martin has produced just three goals in 103 games with the Penguins. And then there's that minus-10 total. And that contract.

"We'd love to have that plus-minus number higher than it is," Reirden said. "We're working on it. But our last game (against Tampa Bay) was his best game in a while. He's going to start moving in the right direction. And you've got to realize he's out there against the other team's best players every night."

Michalek figures to return soon, which should only help Martin.

With or without Michalek, however, Martin realizes that his performance must improve. He also feels a little unlucky

"It seems like I've had one bad shift here and there, and the puck ends up in the back of the net every time," Martin said.

Bylsma is clearly a believer in Martin and won't stop playing him around 25 minutes per game.

"He does a lot of good things for us," Bylsma said. "We count on him a lot."

Additional Information:

Penguins game day

at PANTHERS

7:35 p.m. today, at Sunrise, Fla., BankAtlantic Center

TV/radio: Root Sports/WXDX-FM (105.9), Penguins Radio Network

Last year's records: Penguins 49-25-8; Panthers 30-40-12

Notable: The Penguins have allowed the first goal in four consecutive games and have lost four of their past five road games.

Additional Information:

Rough go

Paul Martin, the Penguins' highest paid defenseman, has struggled this season. Here are his numbers:

Games: 19

Goals: 0

Assists: 4

Points: 4

Plus/minus: -10

PIM: 4

Salary: $5 million

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