When the lockout finally ended in January of this year, hockey fans all around Pittsburgh immediately turned their attention to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the anticipation of an upcoming season.

One of the most oft-asked questions surrounded a defenseman that many had set up to be a goat before the season even started.

Paul Martin was getting thrown under the bus and the Penguins hadn’t even stepped on the ice for a practice yet.

It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

Now, Martin is leading the Penguins charge through the post-season. He’s gone from pre-season goat to post-season hero. His fluid skating, sound decision making, and confidence with the puck are reminding fans across the league why he was worth a five million dollar price tag.

To back the eye test up, we took a look at some key defensive statistics surrounding Martin. The results show he’s not only leading the way for the Penguins, he’s leading the way in the National Hockey League as a whole.

When the season started, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik had received the title of “shutdown pairing” from head coach Dan Bylsma. A heavy tag, to be certain, but as the season has progressed, the pairing continues to gel together.

Are they the Penguins shutdown pair? The numbers would indicate so. Filtering the Penguins numbers in Quality of Competition Corsi shows that Martin is second on the team with a 7.233 Corsi QoC number.

Layman’s terms? Paul Martin is facing the second toughest competition on the team at even strength among active defensemen with at least 5 games played.

So, how has Martin done against that staunch competition?

He’s leading the Penguins defensive unit with .89 goals against per 60 minutes of even strength time on ice.

That’s right, for every 60 minutes that Paul Martin is on the ice at even strength, the Penguins allow .89 goals against.

Let’s stop and take that into perspective for a second. I complied that same number against some of the top defensemen remaining in the playoffs.

Goals Against/60

Zdeno Chara: 2.32
Duncan Keith: 1.73
Dan Boyle: 1.55
Jonathan Ericsson: 1.02
Drew Doughty: 1.53

Martin’s goals against number is trumped only by Rob Scuderi and Slava Voyonov of the Los Angeles Kings among active defensemen left in the playoffs.

What’s more, his impact specific to the Pittsburgh Penguins shines through in statistics as well. Per 60 minutes of even strength time, the Penguins allow 3.12 more goals when Paul Martin isn’t on the ice.

Does that just scream shutdown defenseman to you?

It’s almost as if Dan Bylsma was looking in a crystal ball when he bestowed the “shutdown” moniker on the Orpik/Martin tandem.

This presence on the blue line is exactly what the Penguins needed. With 9 points (2+7) in his first 10 games, and defensive numbers that put him above some of the most elite defensemen in the league, the Penguins finally have that staunch, two-way presence in the lineup that can guide them directly to the ultimate grand prize.