There have been a lot of surprises so far for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early parts of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and one of the most important might be the play of third-year defenseman John Marino.
His career to this point has been a roller of coaster of surprise, disappointment, and question marks. But through the first three games of this series he has played some of the best hockey we have seen from him since his rookie season.
The numbers so far are spectacular.
He has logged over 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey so far and has registered the following....
- A 72 percent shot attempt share, with the Penguins out-attempting the New York Rangers by a 99-39 margin with him on the ice.
- A 77 percent expected goals share, with the Penguins owning a 5.61 to 1.63 advantage.
- A 73 percent scoring chance share, with the Penguins having a 50-18 advantage with him on the ice.
- An 83 percent high-danger scoring chance share, which is a 25-5 advantage.
- The Penguins have also outscored the Rangers by a 4-2 margin.
Those numbers are not only tops among Penguins defensemen so far, they are not only tops among Penguins players (regardless of position), they are among the best of any player in the NHL through the start of the playoffs.
He has posted those numbers playing significant minutes against the Rangers’ top line featuring Artemi Panarin.
It is a significant performance, and one the Penguins are going to need more of if they are going to win this series or make any kind of a run in the playoffs. Especially if Brian Dumoulin remains sidelined.
Marino has been an X-factor type of player for the Penguins all season because there is still so much variance with his play and he has such a significant contract for the next few years. If he can get back to the level of play we saw from him during his rookie season, they have a long-term solution in their top-four. But if it is more of the inconsistency that we have seen over the past two seasons he becomes a question mark and maybe a liability under the salary cap.
Marino was the subject of trade rumors ahead of the trade deadline, but with Kris Letang’s future with the team in doubt beyond this season, Marino and his development takes on an even bigger importance because he is pretty much the only right defense option they have under contract beyond this season. At least the only one that is capable of playing a top-four role. Or has that potential. They not only probably needed to keep him, they need him to be good. Really good. We just have not consistently seen enough of that level of play.
That is what makes the start of these playoffs so important. He has been one of their most effective players during 5-on-5 play and playing to the level the Penguins expected when former Jim Rutherford gave him that long-term contract extension.
Marino is probably never going to be a player that drives an offense or puts up Letang-type numbers from a goals, assists, or total points perspective. But if he can be a possession, scoring chance driving player that defends well and can move the puck out of the zone in transition then that is still an extremely valuable player. The question is going to be if this is something he can build on this postseason and beyond, or if it is just simply a briefly little blip.
The good news is that his numbers over the 10 games to close out the regular season were already starting to trend in the right direction. The Penguins had a better than 53 percent share of scoring chances and expected goals with him on the ice during that stretch, which were among his best numbers of the season.
They are going to need more of this from this postseason, and in future seasons. Hopefully it is the start of something for him.