Penguins Notebook: Defensemen making points in big way
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The Penguins have gotten a ton of production from their top line centered by Evgeni Malkin for months, and, more recently, center Jordan Staal's line has been on fire.
But the team has gotten some important secondary scoring in recent weeks from another subset: its defensemen.
It hasn't happened on the power play since pointman Kris Letang got hurt -- an 0-for-14 stretch -- and it didn't happen Friday in a 2-1 shootout win, but ...
Letang had four goals, eight points in the nine games before he got hurt; Paul Martin had four assists in four games before missing the Friday game because of illness; Deryk Engelland had two goals and an assist in the six games before he got hurt; Zbynek Michalek has one goal, three points in his past seven games; Brooks Orpik has four assists in the past five games; Matt Niskanen has two assists in the past seven games, and Ben Lovejoy has one assist in the past three games.
"It's something that our system allows us to do," Michalek said. "Our coaches encourage us to jump into the play all the time, help our forwards out. Anytime you can create some offense from your defense, it's great for your team, and those teams usually do well."
Overall, the Penguins have gotten 23 goals, 124 points from defensemen through 67 games going into the Sunday matinee against Boston.
"We need to bring that," said Niskanen, whose 19 points are his most since 2008-09. "It's not something that we've changed or anything. That's our game. We're involved in the attack. We supplement the rush when we can. We're involved in the offensive zone. It's something that's expected."
While Martin and goaltender Brent Johnson (unspecified injury) did not skate Saturday, Letang (concussion symptoms) and Engelland (unspecified injury) joined their teammates on the ice at Southpointe.
Part of the reason was the limited time allotted to the team. It also was mostly a non-contact practice, but Engelland has improved to the point where he is day to day.
"It felt pretty good," said Engelland, who has missed three games. "I pushed it a little harder than I did [Friday skating separately], and no problems. We'll see how it feels [this] morning."
Engelland wouldn't rule himself in or out today, but he acknowledged that the fact that the Penguins next game isn't until Thursday "could be huge. It could heal completely."
Letang, who has missed four games, is out indefinitely.
There is a theory that Malkin plays better when fellow center Sidney Crosby is out of the lineup, and those who subscribe to it point to Malkin's strong play -- he is vying for the NHL scoring title and perhaps the Hart Trophy as MVP -- while Crosby has missed all but eight games this season.
Crosby seems to be nearing a return, but one of Malkin's linemates doesn't expect a difference in Malkin's performance and doesn't buy into the theory.
"No, I think [Malkin] is the same player," left winger Chris Kunitz said.
Kunitz alluded to some injury problems the previous couple of seasons, including a nagging shoulder injury and knee surgery, as affecting Malkin's game -- not anything related to Crosby.
"He's healthy," Kunitz said. "He did the same thing he's doing now in the [2009 Stanley Cup] playoff run when Sid was there.
"I think it's just confidence in being healthy and having fun in his game."
The game today is the fourth and final one of the Penguins longest homestand this season. ... The game originally was scheduled for tonight, but was moved to 12:38 p.m. as an NBC game. ... Boston is the Penguins' third opponent in a row that not only played but also lost the day or night before. The Bruins fell to Washington, 4-3, Saturday.
First Published March 11, 2012 12:00 am