What do P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and Duncan Keith all have in common? All three of them are world-class defensemen. All three of them will represent their countries when the 2014 Winter Olympics roll around, and all three are typically mentioned in the Norris Trophy discussion at the end of the season.
They all have one other thing in common though: Subban, Letang and Keith all spend less time out on the ice than Paul Martin does.
In fact, only 10 players in the NHL spend more time playing than the underrated and embattled Pittsburgh Penguins defender. While Letang gets the accolades and Sidney Crosby gets the highlight packages and Evgeni Malkin has lines shuffled to try and get him going, Martin continues to do what he's always done on the blue line for 25 minutes a night.
And that's quietly play at an elite level in the defensive zone while not drawing attention to himself in the process. There's nothing flashy in Martin's game. He doesn't skate like the wind like Erik Karlsson, and he doesn't have a 106 MPH slap shot like Shea Weber.
All in all, there's nothing visibly impressive about Martin at all. Maybe that's why fans of the Penguins have taken to giving him such a hard time over the last two years. Teammate James Neal spoke to Pittsburgh Magazine last year and had this to say on the matter:
Maybe he doesn't score much, but you have to think about what he does in his own end, how good of a stick he has and how hard he is to play against. If you really know hockey, you’ll understand how smart and how skilled he is.
That's the breaks for a guy that makes his money in his own end, especially in an NHL universe that now seems overrun with forwards disguising themselves as defensemen. Make the sleek passes every once in a while or rush the puck up ice and all sins in your own end are forgiven.
Play rock solid defense for 25 minutes a night and make one mistake though, and they'll be all over you like rats on cheese. That won't rattle Martin though. Nothing much seems to get to the defenseman at all, who seems to have ice water running through his veins and always seems capable of making the correct little play when it matters most.
Despite saving goals like that and playing up against the opposition's best players on a nightly basis, Pittsburgh fans always seem to want more out of Martin. He's five years removed from his last 30-point season, and he's yet to reach that plateau while wearing a Penguins uniform.
Perhaps that is the cause for aggravation.
Yet the vile words that get tossed around when it comes to Martin seem a bit harsh considering that he's only seen his point totals dip five or six points on a yearly basis while he's continued to improve his all-around game.
It's clear at this point that head coach Dan Bylsma is using Martin in more of a shutdown role. He's been paired with Brooks Orpik quite frequently this season, and the duo block a ton of shots and rack up the takeaways.
All told, Martin is 16th in the NHL in blocked shots according to ESPN. Considering that he's tasked with slowing down players like Alex Ovechkin or Ryan Getzlaf on a nightly basis, it's also worth nothing that Martin only has 8 PIMs on the year.
He almost never puts the Penguins in a bad spot. Whether he's making a smart play, snapping the puck out of the defensive zone, laying down in front of a shot or finding a way to wrap up an opposing player up without taking a penalty, the quality of competition that Martin brings to the ice every night for the Penguins is outstanding.
It's easy to knock the guy for his offensive output, but get this: he's on pace to break the 30-point barrier for the first time as a Penguin this year, and he hasn't let his defense slip one bit in the process.
If Pittsburgh's blue line has brute strength, it's Orpik. If you're looking for the legs, you're probably going to find Kris Letang. And if there's a heart, it's Martin.
You know what you're going to get from him every single night, and his level of consistency is one of the things that has kept Pittsburgh's season afloat while they've dealt with injuries across the board to numerous important players.
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