While Paul Martin was able to finish Monday’s game in Boston with a broken leg, he will not be able to play another game for quite some time.
Coach Dan Bylsma announced Wednesday that Martin will be out 4-6 weeks with a fractured tibia, which will most likely not require surgery. It is a significant loss and will be a big adjustment for the Penguins, as Martin is a tremendous all-around defenseman who logs big minutes in every situation.
Martin received the toughest assignments while anchoring the top shutdown pairing with Brooks Orpik and led the Penguins (while ranking 11th in the league) with 25:16 minutes per game. He also used his mobility and puck-moving skills to skate on the first power-play unit and was one of the first defensemen over the boards for the penalty kill.
“He played in every situation, against the other team’s top players all the time with ‘Brooksy.’ So he’s an important player for us,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We’re going to miss him. More guys are going to get a bigger chance to play a more important role.”
One of the players the Pens will be counting on is Kris Letang, who will move into Martin’s spot on the top pairing next to Orpik. He will also move back onto the top power-play unit with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
“I’m not looking to replace ‘Pauly,’” Letang said. “I’m looking to play my game and just try to play the best I can with what I get.”
Neither situation will be anything new for Letang, as he was paired with Orpik during the 2010-11 season and had been on the first power-play unit for much of the season. What may be different for Letang, according to coach Bylsma, is the focus he must adopt being in that shutdown role going up against the other teams' best players.
“With the way the league is right now, he still was getting good players and big minutes and defensive situations,” Bylsma said. “I don’t know if (Martin’s absence) changes his minutes at all, but the focus of being that shutdown pair perhaps (changes) a little bit for Kris and playing with Brooks Orpik would be a complement to that.”
Martin’s absence could also create an opportunity for Simon Despres, who was recalled this morning from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He rotated with Robert Bortuzzo on the third pairing during the game-day skate.
After playing 33 NHL games with the Penguins last season, Despres did not make the team out of training camp and was assigned to the American Hockey League. While he admitted it was disappointing, Despres worked hard to improve so he could “earn that spot back when there were injuries in Pittsburgh.”
The WBS coaching staff helped him do that by putting Despres into situations where he could focus on his play in the defensive zone and polish that part of his game. It’s the aspect that needed the most work, as his offensive ability is without question.
“I was on the first PK unit and was playing against other teams’ top lines, working on being good defensively and playing a lot of minutes,” he said. “It definitely helped (me) get some confidence.”
The coaching staff liked what they saw from Despres in WBS, with Bylsma calling his games down there “his most consistent as a defender, most consistent in his play, defending, decisions with the puck. And that’s really what we need from Simon Despres when he gets on the ice and plays.”
That all being said, it will be up to whoever is in the lineup – including Niskanen, Orpik, Deryk Engelland and Olli Maatta – to step up and make sure Martin’s absence isn’t felt.
“I think we kind of have to do it by committee,” Niskanen said. “I don’t think there’s going to be one guy that can do it as good as ‘Marty,’ because nobody is as good as him besides maybe ‘Tanger.’ Tanger is the only one who can probably easily step in and do that role.
“Otherwise, the other guys that are going to be in tonight have got to step it up and step up to the challenge. Everyone is going to get an opportunity to play a little bit more and more important minutes, so a big opportunity for some guys.”