Former Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek celebrates a goal with teammates Mark Letestu, James Neal, Alex Kovalev, Jordan Staal and Paul Martin.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Together again ... well ... not quite.
The Penguins made a splash in the NHL free-agent market July 1, 2010, signing defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin to sizeable five-year contracts. The idea was to have them play together as a shutdown pairing.
It never quite developed into a full-time partnership, and, in the 2012 offseason, the Penguins traded Michalek back to Phoenix, where he had played for five seasons before hitting free agency.
Tonight, Martin and Michalek surely will be on ice at the same time -- at least occasionally -- when the Penguins face the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. It will be their first time facing each other since before their two overlapping seasons with the Penguins.
Michalek leads Phoenix with 97 blocked shots, and he seemingly conjured some of that talent Friday to deflect questions about signing with the Penguins.
"I enjoyed my time," he said after a Coyotes practice. "It was a good experience for me. The organization was first-class. They treated me so well, and my family so well. Everything we needed, they did.
"I have moved on. It's two years behind me. I'm looking ahead of me, not back. It was a good experience. I thank them for the opportunity."
Pressed specifically about whether he had regrets about leaving Phoenix or trying to make things work with Martin, he said, "I don't think so. I don't really want to talk about what was in the past. I've moved on, and they moved on, too. It obviously didn't work out for me or the team, but it is what it is. I don't know what the reasons were, but I don't hold any grudges or anything."
Martin can't explain why things didn't click, although he recalled stretches when he and Michalek played well as a defensive pairing.
"Coming in, we would have liked to have a better result," Martin said. "At times, we were fine, but I think sometimes it just doesn't go the way that you expect or people expect."
Over their two years together with the Penguins, Martin and Michalek each missed time because of injury and played with other defense partners. For now, Martin is part of a shutdown pairing with Brooks Orpik, although both have missed time or had to play with other defensemen this season because of injury.
Martin, 32, has been limited to 29 games because of a broken leg, but he ranks third among the Penguins with 60 blocked shots. He also has two goals, 10 assists.
Meanwhile, Michalek, 31, has missed 22 games over two injury absences. He has five assists in 32 games and is tied for Phoenix's lead in the plus-minus rankings at plus-7. They're both healthy now.
"We had times when we played well together," Martin said. "I've never played with anyone that I thought that I couldn't play with. I'm sure [he] would say the same thing.
"It was a bit of an adjustment at first as far as playing with [him] as a partner. They separated us and things went well. Sometimes, you can't even really put a finger on it or explain what it is. You're trying to do the same things you do with any partner.
"It's good to see him back here. I think he likes it and enjoys it."
That's something Michalek is far from reluctant to talk about.
"If I had to be traded, this is the place I wanted to be," he said. "I was really happy when it happened, when I got traded back to Phoenix. It makes it easier than going somewhere else, getting used to new coaches, new teammates, new system. I was very happy to find out I was coming back here."
Michalek is glad Martin and the rest of the Penguins are in Arizona, too.
"Playing against my old team, like any other player it gives you extra motivation," he said. "Other than that, it's another game and a big game for us."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma never soured on Michalek. Far from it.
"That July 1 day, [Michalek] was the first guy that we identified and got to and were able to sign," Bylsma said. "Paul Martin came a little bit later. We didn't know we really had a chance at Paul. We got them both. I still think it would be a good shutdown pair. [Michalek] is a defense-first guy and does everything possible to keep the thing out of his net."
Bylsma described the decision to trade Michalek as partly "salary-cap implications" and partly the beginning of a stretch of years in which the Penguins were going to have a cornucopia of strong prospects on defense pushing to get into the NHL.
"I still watch the Coyotes and watch [Michalek] and know what kind of defender he is and how much he cares about that," Bylsma said.
"[He and Martin] probably were a better shutdown pair than people gave them credit for in that first year together."
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