Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
For Pittsburgh, Kris Letang and Paul Martin are asked to take on extensive offensive opportunities in addition to their duties in their own end. They handle the puck more often than most defenders in the league, and they’re good at it.
Brooks Orpik hasn’t been racking up the hits like he has in seasons past, but he’s increased his shots blocked to make up the difference. While this is a newer trick for Orpik, Mark Eaton has always been proficient in the discipline, and his return to Pittsburgh has coincided with the team’s improved defensive play.
The “throw-in” from the James Neal-Alex Goligoski swap, Matt Niskanen, has quickly emerged as one of the Penguins’ best defenders. The team has given up oodles of goals this season, but the talent on the blue line isn’t the problem from where I sit.
On the flip side, having an offensive defenseman is a bit of an unfamiliar circumstance. While Dougie Hamilton has been a revelation, it’s Zdeno Chara, the Bruins’ hulking defensive stalwart, who has been the face of the team. The former Norris Trophy-winner has supreme reach and instincts, and he headlines a suffocating Bruins defensive core.
Dennis Seidenberg has been a good free-agent pickup for the B’s, while Johnny Boychuk continues to be a solid contributor. Andrew Ference is a veteran who is playing in a contract year, so he’s been even more motivated than usual.
Thanks largely to this extremely formidable group, the Bruins rank among the league’s best in team goals-against average.