Cook: Martin earns some praise

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PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't even a minute after Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux scored 23 seconds into the second period Saturday to cut the Penguins' lead in half when some wise guy jumped on Twitter.

"Paul Martin has been on the ice for every goal scored against the Penguins this season."

That's cruel even by tweeting's anything-goes standards.

It's funny, there were no complaints about Martin's work after the Penguins finally started the NHL's delayed season by hanging on for a 3-1 win at Wells Fargo Center. Certainly, there were no complaints in the team room. Martin played a strong game. It wasn't so much that he had a two-point performance, setting up Tyler Kennedy's deflection goal in the first period with a hard slapper from the right point and assisting on Chris Kunitz's empty-net, power-play goal with 12 seconds left. It was his defense, especially on the penalty-kill. It was solid.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will get most of the applause after stopping 26 of the Flyers' 27 shots. "That's the goalie we expect him to be and know he is," winger Matt Cooke said, the inference being that Fleury's weak performance in the Penguins' loss in April to the same Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was an aberration.

But make sure you save some of the cheers this morning for Martin. He played 24 minutes, 7 seconds -- more than anyone on either team except for Penguins defenseman Kris Letang -- and was on the top penalty-kill unit when the Flyers had two unsuccessful power plays in the final 5 1/2 minutes.

The Twitter world, not to mention much of Penguins Nation, might have lost confidence in Martin after what he called "a terrible season" last year. Many in the fan base wanted him traded or released, saying he wasn't worth his $5 million-a-year salary. But Penguins general manager Ray Shero stuck with Martin. Coach Dan Bylsma turned to him Saturday with the game on the line.

"That's big," Martin said, quietly.

"This is a fresh start for me."

All the Penguins had been waiting for one since their season ended prematurely and with great disappointment here last spring. Spring turned into summer and summer turned into the NHL's ridiculous 119-day lockout. In sports, you are remembered only for your most recent showing. That was a long time for the Penguins to wait to prove they are a better team than the one that was blown out, 5-1, by the Flyers in Game 6.

"People probably were too hard on [Fleury] after that series," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We were terrible in front of him."

Orpik gets no argument here. The Penguins gave up 30 goals in the six games. They were especially horrid on the penalty-kill, allowing an absurd 12 goals on the Flyers' 23 power-play chances.

Saturday was a much different story.

The Flyers went 0 for 5 on the power play, failing three times in the first period and on the two late man-advantages.

"We learned from the goals we gave up last season, but we came in with a fresh mind," Orpik said. "It wasn't hanging over our head confidence-wise.

"We made some minor adjustments systematically. We didn't run around as much. We trusted each other. We trusted our goaltender.

"The five guys they put out there are pretty good. They're going to make some plays. We didn't over-react this time. We stayed patient."

Orpik, Martin, Letang and Matt Niskanen did much of the work on the back end of the penalty-kill. But it must be noted that on the Flyers' two late power plays, Bylsma sent Orpik and Martin over the boards first.

"We know Paul is a good hockey player," Cooke said. "He's such a smart hockey player. His hockey I.Q. is through the roof."

And last season?

"He had a bad year. He's human. He's not running from it," Cooke said.

"He did everything he could in the offseason to get in great shape and be ready for the season. He knows this is a new season."

At least for one game, Martin justified the faith shown by Shero and Bylsma.

"I thought he played great," Orpik said.

It happened at a really nice time for the Penguins. Like their fans will do Wednesday night for the home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Flyers fans welcomed back hockey with both arms. The arena was absolutely throbbing.

"We want to put on a real big game for them," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said before the puck dropped.

The Penguins would have none of it. Fleury and his defense didn't allow it. The penalty-kill would have no part of it.

A big win?

The Penguins could be heard whistling and clapping for themselves in their room right after the game.

It's nice to think a little of that love was directed at Martin.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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