The job of the defensive defenseman is one of high risk and little reward, which is why Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek's first goal of the season and first in 92 games was so widely celebrated in the Pens' 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Offense isn't a part of a defensive defenseman's repertoire, otherwise he wouldn't be called a defensive defenseman. Rather, his job is to move the puck out of his end, block shots and do whatever it takes to keep the puck away from the goal crease and even the goalie.
Michalek has done this and more since signing a five-year, $20 million contract with the Pens over the summer.
So it was perplexing when Michalek's lack of production on the scoreboard became a topic of interest. People spoke of the "monkey on his back."
Regardless of the fact that every skater is expected to score periodically, what Michalek has brought to the team defensively negates any lack of offensive production. The "monkey on his back" wasn't generated so much from him not doing what he needed to do on the ice, but because he wasn't putting in the obligatory goal every few dozen games.
That's not a monkey on his back; that's the media spending too much time looking at the wrong stats.
What people need to remember is that Michalek has prevented so many goals, be it from blocking attempts or just solid defense, that we should be able to handle him scoring only one goal in 92 games without wondering when his next goal will come up.
With his team-leading 126 blocked shots and 226 shorthanded minutes, his duties are clearly defined and he performs them exceptionally well.
The only glitch in his play is he's a minus-8 on the season. Ironically enough, he's one of those players I would want on the ice in the final seconds of a game.
Because he has become that player who puts everything on the line, his body and well-being included.
Looking purely at stats when dissecting the defensive play of a defenseman is very misleading because the intangibles are what make them a valuable asset to the team.
There isn't a stat for how many two-on-ones they break up.
There isn't a stat for how many poke checks they make.
For Michalek, there isn't a stat that counts how many times he has stopped pucks that were sure to go in.
In sports, there's a justified need to keep track of numbers, but the numbers don't always tell the whole story. In fact, they only tell a small part of it, but they have become a huge part of our day-to-day analysis of players.
Michalek can't be summed up with numbers on a sheet of paper.
He's a player that needs to be watched carefully because he does all of the little things right and will come up with a huge save to prevent a goal.
With the recent injuries that have taken out a big portion of the Pens captains, Michalek has stepped up as a new leader both on and off the ice.
He has been reliable with and without the puck and can put a laser shot on net from the point. Yesterday, it counted for something other than merely a shot on net.
The celebration on Michalek's end was something to behold because, for one moment, all eyes were on him for scoring the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner. The stats would truly work in his favor now.
And it was beautiful to see.
But in the end, Pens fans should be content seeing him block shots, hem players in the boards and move the puck swiftly out of the defensive zone.
Anything more, on the offensive end, is just a bonus.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.
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