ATLANTA – Defenseman Martin Skoula was signed on the cusp of training camp by Pittsburgh to add depth and experience to the Penguins’ defensive corps as the seventh option.
But a rash of injuries have thrust Skoula into a prominent role with the club, logging significant minutes in all possible situations. The defensive defenseman’s play culminated with his second career two-goal performance at Atlanta in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over the Thrashers.
“It’s nice to score but it’s not my main job,” Skoula said. “We played a pretty good game.
“I’m just enjoying my time here. It was a strange situation with all the injuries. I do my best (with) whatever comes my way.”
“It’s not what we expect from him but he’s the kind of guy that can do it,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “He’s done a great job. He’s one of those guys that people don’t realize how good he is. He’s working hard, blocking shots, doing all the little things right. He’s helping us in ways that people might not notice. (Saturday) was one of those nights that he stepped up and scored and will get some recognition.”
Skoula’s first goal came on a power play 7:38 into the first period. Skoula, who also finished the game with four shots and 18:09 minutes of ice time, held the puck at the far point. He rifled a shot through heavy traffic in front of the net that eluded Thrashers netminder Johan Hedberg.
“I was getting it through and lucky it went in,” Skoula said.
On his second goal, Skoula finished off a great sequence for the Penguins in the second period. The Penguins had sustained pressure in the offensive zone when Matt Cooke
found a streaking Skoula down the far side. Skoula, whose only other two-goal game occurred while a member of the Colorado Avalanche on March 17, 2002 against the Nashville, blasted a slap shot into the twine for his second of the night.
“Our defensemen in particular were joining rushes and making plays in the offensive zone,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Skoula had a power-play goal late on the power play. He was trying to get a puck to the net. He gets a fortunate bounce. On the second, we had a good shift in the offensive zone. We broke them down and he was the benefactor coming in with a great pass. I was actually looking for a pass, backdoor, Staalsy was open. But he blasted it by.”
After arriving in Pittsburgh in late September, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound blueliner didn’t make his Penguins’ debut until Oct. 23. With the rash of injuries suffered on the blue line to Gonchar, Kris Letang
, Brooks Orpik
, Alex Goligoski and Jay McKee, Skoula has seen his ice time and responsibilities increase.
Skoula’s game has grown as he’s become more accustomed to the Penguins’ system and adjusted to his new teammates.
“I knew what I was coming in for. It was just an emergency situation with all the injuries,” Skoula said. “I’m just enjoying my time here.
“It’s not easy to come into a new team. It’s getting used to the other guys and the plays that we want to make. It’s just been going pretty well.”
Skoula has been an unsung hero on the blue line for the team and at least one teammate is happy that he will receive some recognition for his strong play.
“He’s been playing great for us. After the first game that he played, he’s been playing better and better with every game,” Gonchar said. “He’s more comfortable with the system and his partners. Now he’s scoring goals for us.
“I think that he deserves that the way he was playing for us, in all situations, power play, shorthanded, he’s done a tremendous job.”