Penguins reunite shutdown pair Martin, Michalek

| Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

Defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek have battled inconsistent play and a steady stream of injuries this season, but the duo will finally reunite on Friday against the Rangers. And the coaching staff will immediately deploy Martin and Michalek as its shutdown pair.

"They have been sorely missed," assistant coach Todd Reirden said. "They're going to be a big part of our success during the second half of the regular season."

The Penguins have permitted at least one goal to the opposition's top line in seven of their past eight contests.

Although Martin and Michalek have struggled at times this season -- they're a combined minus-14 -- they are looking forward to playing against top lines. They'll get thrown into the fire Friday against Rangers stars Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.

"Playing against the top players in the league is the challenge that we take responsibility for," Martin said. "We'll play against the best players every night, and we want to shut them down."

Reirden is certain that Martin and Michalek will play well starting this weekend in showdowns against the Rangers and New Jersey Devils. After all, precedent suggests they play better in the second half of the season.

During their time with the Penguins, Martin and Michalek have started slowly. However, the coaching staff is convinced they are about to find their groove.

"I expect them to do well right way, even though they haven't played much together," Reirden said.

During training camp in 2010, the Penguins played Michalek with Brooks Orpik and Martin with Kris Letang. Then the coaching staff realized that Martin and Michalek made more sense together.

It has been that way ever since.

"We learned a lot by bringing them into our system together," Reirden said. "After a slower start than we would have liked, we put them together because they were on a similar learning curve. It was the best thing for them. There were rough patches before Thanksgiving, but then they got it."

And they began to find a chemistry that remains Wednesday.

Even though Martin and Michalek have only played a handful of games together this season, they don't seem particularly concerned about finding a comfort level. It's always been there, and it has become evident that they are better when playing on the same pairing.

"This week off is really going to help us a lot in terms of timing," Martin said. "But I'm not too worried about it. It's to the point where we usually know what the other one is going to do."

Only a few weeks ago, when the Penguins' blue line was decimated by injuries, coach Dan Bylsma was asked which players would be used in a shutdown role. He required an extra pause to answer the question.

Now, there is no hesitation.

"To get Paul back in there is big," Bylsma said, "especially to get Paul and 'Z' back together again as a shutdown pair."

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