Letang/Martin Look To Anchor Penguins Defensive Corps
With the departure of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to the Washington Capitals via free agency, it’s reasonable to expect the future of the Penguins defensive corps to be anchored by a top pairing of Kristopher Letang and Paul Martin.
When I brought this up over the vast expanse of the internet last week, a few people expressed concern over having such a mobile and offensively potent top unit.
This lead me to thinking about the past results we’ve seen from a Letang and Martin pairing, as well as how this compares to the top defensive units we see across the NHL.
To start, I went back and took a look at the combined totals we’ve seen from Letang and Martin over the course of the last three years. I wanted to look at total even-strength rates overall, as well as situations where the game is tied or within 1 goal in the first and second periods or tied in the third period and also removing zone-related data. I also updated this information to include faceoff adjusted data that simply ignores the first 10 seconds after an offensive/defensive zone faceoff. This eliminates most zone start effects.
Here are the separate sets of data we find for those circumstances.
All Even-Strength Situations for Letang/Martin since 2011
The first thing that jumps out to me about these numbers is the short-term memory loss a lot of people experience when it comes to Kris Letang.
Make no mistake about it, these cumulative numbers that Letang has posted lead the current crop of Penguins defenseman. While he can be prone to turnovers and poor decision-making moments, the work that Letang is putting in is driving possession and goals for the Penguins, even if we completely remove the power-play from the equation.
With the salary cap increasing, and keeping P.K. Subban’s recent deal with Montreal fresh in our minds, we should be rather thankful that we have a defenseman like Kris Letang in the lineup.
Beyond that, the work that Martin/Letang have put in together, albeit there’s a small sample size involved, is nothing short of impressive. There is not a player that posted better numbers with Paul Martin during this stretch than Kris Letang.
We’re used to Martin most recently being paired with Brooks Orpik, a situation that elevated Orpik’s metrics and, judging by this information, may have handcuffed or deflated Martin’s.
Now, let’s adjust for faceoff’s and look at purely close-score situations.
Again, a quick reminder of what Kris Letang is capable of when he’s healthy and in the right situations.
We’ve got two situations we’ve looked at here that speak to what Letang and Martin are capable of as a pairing, sample size aside.
We also know that, in Mike Johnston’s system, simply banking the puck off the glass in rough situations isn’t going to cut it.
Johnston demands that his defensemen activate to join the rush. The puck support provided by a mobile pairing could serve to be the backbone of Johnston’s approach in the neutral zone.
So let’s take a look at some of the top pairings that were left playing when the playoffs were all said and done. For sample size purposes, I took a look at all even-strength situations in the regular season.
So again, we have a sample size discussion to be had here. The totals for Letang/Martin over the course of the last three years are slimmer than what we’re seeing from other pairings, but the results are certainly there, even if they normalize over time.
Assuming this pairing plays the bulk of their ice time with Crosby & company, the Corsi-For percentages and the goals for rates, particularly, are likely to either stand pat or increase.
In the climate of today’s NHL, having a pairing that is mobile can open up doors offensively and frustrate opponents on many levels.
For the Penguins, a pairing of Letang and Martin might bring a lethal element to Mike Johnston’s gameplan.