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Gonchar among Atlantic's most reliable

by Adam Kimelman

In today's NHL, some defensemen have earned roles as specialists. They'll only play the power play, or only see the ice in shorthanded situations.

The best ones, though, have earned the trust of their coaches to see ice time in all situations.

These five Atlantic Division defensemen earned all the minutes they played last season.

1. Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh -- Regarded throughout his career as an offensive defenseman, Gonchar has rounded out his game under coach Michel Therrien. In the last three seasons, Gonchar's shorthanded ice time has jumped two full minutes, to 3:52 per game last season, and he still played more than 5:30 on the power play.

Gonchar played the most total minutes among any defenseman in the division, but all the work was good for him -- he finished with 65 points, second among NHL blueliners and two shy of his career high.

2. Michal Rozsival, New York Rangers -- On a mostly inexperienced Rangers blue line, Rozsival was needed to play in all situations, and he never let down his team.

Rozsival jumped over the boards a team-high 29.5 times per game, and it didn't matter if the team was a man down -- he played a team-high 2:58 per game shorthanded -- or a man up -- he saw 3:47 of ice time per game on the power play.

The 24:33 Rozsival played was a career high and the culmination of four straight seasons of increased ice time. Offseason hip surgery and the addition of Wade Redden could cut into some of that time, but it also could leave Rozsival fresher for the playoffs.

3. Paul Martin, New Jersey -- As one veteran defenseman leaves New Jersey, another seems to emerge. First Brian Rafalski stepped into Scott Niedermayer's shoes; when Rafalski left last summer, it was Martin's turn, and he was well-suited for the extra ice time.

While Martin's 23:53 was down from the 25:13 he averaged in 2006-07, he picked up more than two minutes in shorthanded ice time, going from 1:13 to 3:18.

The Devils' defense core returns intact from the end of last season, so with a season's experience under coach Brent Sutter, expect Martin's ice time to, at minimum, stay the same, and likely rise.

4. Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia -- After finishing 2006-07 a distant last in the League, the Flyers believed their biggest need was a confident, competent defenseman. They targeted Timonen, and hit the bull's-eye with him.

Playing 23:34 per game, Timonen anchored a defense that cut 70 goals last season from 2006-07, and he helped Braydon Coburn progress into a potential star. He also played 4:56 per game on a power play that finished second in the NHL.

Where Timonen really proved his value was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he averaged 24:40 per game over 13 games. But without him for the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Flyers fell into a 3-1 hole they were unable to overcome.

5. Radek Martinek, New York Islanders -- Nothing Martinek does is going to jump off the stat sheet, but he provides a reliable presence in his own zone.

At 22:52 per game, Martinek led all Islanders defenseman in ice time, including a team-best 4:29 shorthanded. A great amount of his ice time was spent doing all the little things a team needs. He led the club's blueliners with 134 blocked shots and 66 takeaways.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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