A smart player wouldn't take a penalty against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
One of the NHL's most lethal units in the 2013 season, the Pens' power play was awe-inspiring for fans to watch and nightmare-inducing for the opposition. Its movement was harmonious with multiple snipers ready to strike at any moment, anywhere on the ice. They would make you regret the temporary lapse in judgment or extra cross check in the crease.
Especially after the acquisition of Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, one discussion would consistently remain in circulation: "Who gets first dibs on the power play and where?" With so many possibilities, the Pens could roll two distinct units that could skate as a top unit on any team in the league.
The power play's domination carried over into the playoffs, but there were glaring lapses readily exposed by the Islanders and now the Senators. Penalty kill units learned that to stop the Pens' power play was to attack it. As a result, the Pens have allowed three shorthanded goals in 10 playoff games.
The Pens' power play wasn't looking too good. It seems difficult to justify because at 28.6%, it remains the NHL's best. Blame the shorthanded goals, but the confidence that suffocated so many penalty killing units just wasn't there. Doubt and hesitation took its place, but the Pens' unmatched goal-scoring talent would still bring in the tallies regardless.
However, Paul Martin's presence on the point seemed to change that. In the second round, he's been on the ice for three of the Pens' five power play goals. He was on the ice for Daniel Alfredsson's shorthanded goal in Game 3, but I hardly think Martin's play in that shift takes away from what he adds.
I would love nothing more than to see Martin start as point man on every power play. Here's why:
Power plays must be prepared for when things go wrong, and the Pens have had their fair share of meltdowns, one of them costing a 3-0 series lead.
Penalty killers have learned to attack the point which increases mistakes and overall hesitation. Martin has been the Pens' best defenseman in the playoffs and his innate offensive ability makes for a good balance that addresses these weaknesses. His sound defense on the point has been key to good offensive pressure on the power play, starting with smart passes under pressure and keeping a bobbling puck in the zone.
With the Pens allowing three shorthanded goals, I wouldn't be opposed to having two defensemen and three forwards, especially if those defenseman can produce offensively.
And Martin can.
He can get pucks on net
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Can't say it any better than that.
Martin may not weave pucks through bodies like Sergei Gonchar once did, but I think he's the next best option.
The Pens have plenty of players who can rip the puck from the top of the circle and get it by most NHL goalies. Craig Anderson has been chased twice this series, but he has been seeing the puck well and the Sens have done a good job blocking the Pens' chances.
Their best scoring chances have come when Anderson's vision was impeded or multiple players crashed the crease. Having Morrow or Chris Kunitz park in front of Anderson on power plays with Martin sending pucks into dangerous areas from the point is a recipe for success. And it has worked.
Calming influence on Kris Letang
Letang has had a rough playoffs and his work on the power play has seen better days. At times, he tries to do too much which never ends well. Many have called for Letang to surrender his spot on the top unit, but that's not happening.
Having Martin alongside him ultimately creates a calming environment for Letang. Not only is Martin strong with the puck on his stick, but his presence takes away some of Letang's defensive responsibility. We can't always erase the effects of shorthanded goals; it only takes one for hesitation to settle in and the Pens have allowed enough goals that we all feel the twinge of concern when the Pens have the man advantage.
What the Pens can do is make sure responsible players are on the ice in case breakdowns occur without sacrificing the firepower needed to keep the power play ticking. Again, who better encompasses this than Martin?
Unfortunately, Martin is a mortal being and can only play so many minutes on the ice. He already logs the second most total minutes on the Pens with an average 26:48, only 30 seconds less than Letang's leading minutes. What time Martin doesn't spend on the power play, he spends on the penalty kill where he averages the most time among defensemen.
It would be a bit much to ask him to take on another prominent special teams role. Deciding which players make up the first unit is heavily dependent on who was on the ice prior to the penalty, but I would like to see Bylsma looking to Martin more.
This is a true testament to how good Martin has been; we could really use him in so many facets of the game, but Bylsma has to pick his battles carefully. Martin has been a rock for the Pens in these playoffs and I think it's safe to say we're all happy Shero didn't ship him out last summer like many wanted.