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Standout young blueliner Simon Despres.
Pathetic defense in front of Fleury was another major contributing factor to the Penguins’ disappointing 2012 postseason.
A lot of things have changed since then.
Paul Martin’s defensive play is a 180-degree turn from what it was last year. He’s finally the reliable, top-two shutdown defenseman the Penguins are paying him $5 million to be. He’s chipping in offensively, too.
The rest of the Penguins defensemen are stepping up, too. Matt Niskanen is continuing to find his niche as a top-four utility defenseman who can backstop the Penguins in any situation. At 21 years old, Simon Despres is a young blueliner who, like Niskanen, fits in wherever coach Dan Bylsma needs him.
Mark Eaton is one of the few true stay-at-home defensemen on the Penguins’ roster. He’s a smart, reliable defenseman who makes all the right plays to keep the puck away from Fleury. Beyond that, his veteran presence is valuable to the younger players.
Shero’s acquisitions since last year will make an impact, too. At 6’3”, 245 pounds, Douglas Murray is a massive presence at the back end that adds plenty of strength to the lineup. Morrow, another midseason trade acquisition, is a power forward who also adds strength to the roster.
When the defensemen can’t handle everything John Tavares and the Islanders throw at them, the Penguins forwards will have to play well in their own zone.
Brandon Sutter is a prime example of how to play well in both zones. He backchecks, blocks shots and wins crucial faceoffs—all of which are valuable in the playoffs. His 28.6 shooting percentage against the Islanders this season is helpful, too.
Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.