Being on minus side doesn't add up for Penguins' Martin
November 15, 2011 5:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
Defenseman Paul Martin is third-to-last in plus-minus in the league, with minus-11.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Some use the plus-minus ratio to monitor NHL players. Others don't put much stock in that statistic.
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin figures no one from either camp can miss his number -- minus-11 through 17 games going into a date tonight against Colorado.
Only two players in the league had a more bloated plus-minus going into Monday's games.
"If anyone looks at a piece of paper and sees that, obviously they don't like it," Martin said Monday after practice at Consol Energy Center.
Game: Avalanche vs. Penguins
When: 7:30 p.m. today.
Where: Consol Energy Center.
A player earns a plus when his team scores at even strength or short-handed while he is on the ice, a minus when the opponent scores an even-strength or short-handed goal with him on the ice.
Martin isn't a flashy, offensive defenseman, although he's got a good first pass. He's more of a shutdown guy. There are some defensive statistics that apply to someone in his role. For example, he is tied for second on the club with 25 blocked shots.
Still, it's the minus-11 that stands out.
"Sometimes you can't explain it," Martin, 30, said. "You just do the same things you usually do. Sometimes you feel like it's not going your way.
"I'm not usually a minus player to finish the season. We've still got a long way to go, and I expect to turn it around. But it's tough when you start in a hole like this."
Martin was minus-9 in 2006-07 with New Jersey, but has finished on the plus side each of his other six seasons. He was a plus-21 in 2008-09, and a plus-9 last season, his first with the Penguins.
Assistant Todd Reirden, who oversees the defense, views Martin's plus-minus as an indicator that the veteran isn't playing as well as he could.
"Paul's done a lot of good things that aren't represented in the statistics, but right now his plus-minus isn't where he wants it to be and where we need it to be as a team," Reirden said. "We'll continue to work toward that.
"There's room for improvement, but it certainly doesn't come from a lack of effort."
Martin and his teammates have been able to poke fun at his burdensome statistic.
"We're joking about it so far, like 'You're getting the green jacket if you're playing golf,' " he said. "So far, it hasn't been that bad. It's getting close.
"It's getting up there."
It doesn't help Martin's cause that almost a third of the Penguins goals -- 15 of 48 -- have come on the power play, meaning no pluses, and the club ranks in the bottom 10 in the league with 26 goals while both teams are skating at full strength.
Martin's numbers seem to be getting worse. He has been a minus in each of the past five games and -- although points are not his defining statistic -- he has gone seven games without a point after getting three assists in the first 10 games.
Perhaps there's a reason.
Zbynek Michalek, his regular defense partner since the start of the 2010-11 season, when the two began playing for the Penguins, has missed the past seven games because of a broken finger.
"I do think that he and [Michalek] were definitely reaching a comfort level together," Reirden said. "That was certainly by design. We think a lot of both of them. They complement each other as a shutdown pair."
Martin has been playing a lot with Kris Letang, an offensive defensemen with a much different skill set than Michalek.
That could change tonight. At practice, Martin was paired with Deryk Engelland, while Letang skated with Brooks Orpik.
"I wouldn't read too much into it," coach Dan Bylsma warned, explaining that the Penguins often use a rotating three-man system now rather than having one shutdown pair to match up against opponents' top one or two lines. The three are Martin, Letang and Orpik.
Michalek has been skating on his own. He could be back in the next few weeks.
Martin doesn't want to wait. He wants to play better now.
He has watched tape, watched goals being scored while he was on the ice, relived the uncomfortable gnawing in his stomach.
"Sometimes you get the feeling like it's going to be in the back of the net no matter what you do," he said. "It's just one of those deals."
Getting past that is a chore.
"I think the hardest thing is to try to stay positive and focused instead of getting down," Martin said. "The best part is the team's still winning. But that sometimes makes it even harder. When we're winning and things are going well and you're the one that kind of sticks out, it doesn't feel good. But you can only so do much.