It's been made official that Paul Martin will play for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, his first return to game action since breaking his hand in the Olympics in February.
Getting Martin back will have a ripple effect that will help the entire team. From Sean Gentille of the Hockey News:
In the 485:21 Orpik has been on the ice with Martin at even-strength, Pittsburgh has scored 52.5 percent of all goals. In Orpik's 652:21 away from Martin, largely with Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland, Pittsburgh has scored 42.9 percent of all goals (per stats.hockeyanalysis.com). That's a meaningful difference.
Martin also positively impacts Pittsburgh's even-strength puck possession when Orpik is on the ice. Pittsburgh takes 48.4 percent of all even-strength attempts when they're together, compared to 44.7 when Orpik is with someone else.
Taking a further look at possession stats, let's look at the following chart from Extra Skater. We added bars in to show:
- This should the Penguins were strong early in the season, but slumping back towards the 50% mark when on November 25th we get a bar to denote Martin's first injury of the year, a broken leg
- FF improves for a short time (in this rolling average) but then the bottom drops out big time with a huge sink in late December and early January. This is followed by Martin's return on January 20th [green line]
- FF immediately turns around and shoots up for this period, until the next bar to show the post-Olympic time period, which Martin has missed and the bottom drops out again to a season low, before a recent period of stabilization and improvement.
Of course, this chart has to be analyzed with the reasonable and obvious conclusion that one player does not make a team's entire possession stats. There were doubtlessly many other significant factors as the Penguins battled injuries and shuffled several key players in and out of the lineup at various points of the season that altered helped make up this chart just as much as Paul Martin's piece of the puzzle did.
Still, the indisputable fact is that Pittsburgh is a better and deeper with Paul Martin and his presence in the lineup will help the team as the playoffs approach.
The Pens have failed to be a standout possession team this season, and a lot of that burden can be chalked up to the absence of Martin and Kris Letang. who's been out of the lineup since January. These two players are the top minutes playing defensemen on the team, and they're the two guys who are the teams' best puck-moving and skating defensemen (with apologies to Matt Niskanen, who's had a great season, but historcially hasn't been a "top 4" defenseman").
Adding Martin back to the Pens improves the team's possession, skill level and will help at all three facets of play (even-strength, power play, penalty kill). Just a few games out of the playoffs, it can't come at a better time for a team that frankly could use the extra help.