BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Paul Martin poked a little fun at his game.
This was after the 4-2 win at home Wednesday night against Ottawa. The Penguins defenseman had two assists in that game but also three minor penalties.
"I was hoping to get one more [assist] to even out the penalties," he said, with a slight smile.
Then, he allowed a little frustration to creep into his voice.
"That's not typical of me to be in the box so much, but the [penalty] kill did a good job," Martin said. "They're tough calls when someone trips over your stick or gets caught up with you."
Martin didn't seem to smile much last season, but he hasn't found a lot of reasons to be downcast this time around. Last season, he struggled to maintain the level of play that prompted Penguins general manager Ray Shero to sign him to a five-year, $25 million free-agent contract in July 2010. Now, he has rediscovered his game.
He is part of a shutdown pairing with Brooks Orpik and has been strong since he was moved to the top power-play unit while Kris Letang was hurt. He remained on one point on the top unit at practice Saturday at First Niagara Center.
In 15 games going into the matchup today with the Buffalo Sabres, Martin has a goal and seven assists and one minor penalty outside of that Ottawa game.
The criticism that dogged him seems to have evaporated and so have the mistakes. He does not fumble the puck off the end of his stick or turn it over at critical times.
Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 12:38 p.m. today, First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
- TV, Radio:
WPXI, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders:
Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ryan Miller for Sabres.
Have won past two games. ... Have scored first in all road games, going 7-2. ... James Neal has 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) in past 6 games.
Are 2-8 in past 10 games vs. Penguins. ... Power play among the worst (12.7 percent) and 0 for 11 in past four games. ... Former Penguins D Jordan Leopold is two assists shy of 200 for career.
- Hidden stat:
In 15 games, Penguins had one 1-goal game, a 2-1 shootout win at Ottawa.
Martin doesn't use Twitter, isn't big on much media of any kind, but he was affected by public sentiment that ranged from disappointment to outrage to calls for the Penguins to dump him and his salary.
"[Pittsburgh] is a big sports market," Martin said. "You obviously hear it. I typically don't read too much. I never have. But the more people talked, the more you started to think or believe what people are saying. Any athlete does.
"Everyone has confidence and belief in themself, and, when that's questioned for an extended period of time -- and I think for the most part I knew I wasn't playing great -- for as much experience as I have, that gets frustrating."
He had a long time to think about it because of the NHL lockout that pushed the start of the season back to Jan. 19.
"You take pride in what you do and, when things aren't going your way, all you can really do is work harder at it, have a good offseason and come back with a good attitude," Martin said. "I think it's been paying off."
His new defense partner agreed to the point that he wonders what all the fuss was about.
"He's an easy guy to play with," Orpik said. "He's not the most talkative guy off the ice -- Paulie's a pretty softspoken guy -- but on the ice he communicates really well and makes good reads.
"He's just really consistent. He's always in good position."
Martin and Zbynek Michalek signed at the same time and were pegged as a shutdown pairing, but that never fully materialized. The Penguins traded Michalek back to Phoenix in June and kept Martin. It's paying off.
"His skill set hasn't changed over the summer, so the one thing you point to is confidence," Orpik said. "I don't care how mentally tough you are, when you have certain media outlets that are constantly saying negative things about you, it's going to affect the way you play.
"When you approach games tip-toeing into them and playing not to make a mistake, you're going to make a lot of mistakes and you're going to be a half-step behind on every play, chasing the puck."
Because of his role and earlier injuries to Letang and Matt Niskanen, Martin, 31, is playing a lot. He leads the team with 25 minutes, 51 seconds per game and is thriving.
"I think you just get into the game more and you feel better as you get out there more often," Martin said.
In his first six NHL seasons with New Jersey, Martin established himself as a dependable defenseman with good puck-moving skills. He was seen as a complement to the Penguins' high-end forwards.
And, while his statistics his first two seasons with the Penguins weren't that far off from his years with the Devils -- five goals, 51 points combined in 2010-11 and last season -- there were glaring problems.
He was determined to change that this season.
"That was my goal coming in after last year -- be more consistent in all ends of the rink," Martin said. "The confidence builds, and you start to play better. The role with [Orpik] has helped, playing against other teams' top lines. Hopefully, we continue to do that.
"Mentally and physically, I feel a lot better than I did last year."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published February 17, 2013 5:00 AM