than being a player that opponent’s hate going up against in the corner. He’s strong on the forecheck and loves to play the body, wearing down his opponent with his physical play.
“I’m a physical presence,” Martin said of his playing style. “I like to stick up for my teammates and I’ll fight when I need to, but I play a pretty hard game. I drive the net and crash bodies and try to make room for my linemates.”
He currently leads the National Hockey League with 97 hits in the Islanders first 22 games, despite playing one less game than last year’s leader Cal Clutterbuck, who currently sits at 91 hits.
|Zac Rinaldo is checked into the boards by Matt Martin at Nassau Coliseum on November 23, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“It’s a nice stat,” Martin said. “It’s always great to be the leader in something. That’s kind of something I expect from myself, I expect to be one of the bigger hitters in this league. It’s what got me here and it’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my career. You might not lead the league every year, but for every year that I’m in the league, I should be in the top of that category.”
In just his sophomore season, Martin is on pace to lay 361 hits this season, while averaging just over 11 minutes of ice time per game. In his first year pro, Martin finished the season fourth in hits (299) despite playing at least eight fewer games than the top three in that category.
“Last year was a good start for me on my physical play,” Martin said. “I made myself a presence on the ice with what I was able to accomplish. I really wanted to round out my offensive game, be a better all around player.”
While he’s pleased to once again put up gaudy numbers in the hits column, knowing when to make those hits is how Martin has improved from year one to year two.
“Last year, I got caught running around a little bit,” Martin said. “I was a little excited obviously, being in the NHL. You hear the crowd and they get real loud when you make a hit and you get fired up and stop thinking. That can lead you to make the wrong decisions. I’m just trying to stay within the team concept.”
Staying within the systems means that he’s making those critical hits when the team is on the forecheck rather than in the defensive zone where a turnover could cost the team a goal.
“There is a lot of D that play a lot of minutes in this league,” Martin said. “If you look at (Christian) Erhoff the other night, he played 32 minutes. If you can get the pucks deep on them and keep banging them every shift, by the end of the second and going into the third period, they are going to be pretty tired and they aren’t going to want to go and get that puck anymore.”
Martin has the muscle to lay some big hits and will drop the gloves on occasion, but he’s become a more versatile player. He’s becoming more aware of the difference it makes when you can not only play a strong offensive game, but you’re good on the defensive side of the puck.
|Adam McQuaid squares up against Matt Martin at the TD Garden on November 7, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“At this level, you aren’t going to get too far if you aren’t good in your end,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of talent in this league, if you’re not responsible, you’re not going to get ice time. I don’t want to be a guy that plays five or six minutes a night. I want the coach to rely on me to go out there and be an impact player and a difference maker.”
Martin understands that he’s still learning and perfecting his game, but one day he hopes to be a guy that can go out on the ice in critical situations and can be accountable to make key plays.
“That’s something you always want to stress, that you want to be a difference maker on the ice, whether that’s defensively or offensively,” Martin said. “Right now, I’m playing third-fourth line, mostly fourth line minutes, so most of the time you have to be good in your own end. That’s something I’ve really worked hard at and it’s really paid off.”
Martin has scored two goals and two assists in 22 games and is fourth on the team with 46 shots, but he’s also in a three-way tie for third on the team with 10 blocked shots. Amongst the members of the team who’ve dressed in 20 games or more, Martin’s three giveaways are the second least amount on the team, just one more than veteran winger and former linemate Jay Pandolfo
One area Martin would like to become more depended upon is his play on the penalty kill, a skill he learned in junior hockey playing for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League and continued under the direction of Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano while he was playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
“Eventually I want to be a guy that can go out on the PK every shift, but right now we’ve got some great penalty killers on this team,” Martin said. “I’m still learning and coming along so it’s progress. Hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll be out there all the time.”
As Martin continues to strive to be the best, the Islanders will only benefit.