Penguins defensemen playing at high level early in season
Penguins coach Mike Johnston insists he wants to get rookie Scott Harrington into game action.
But Johnston has a good problem. No defenseman on his roster has warranted removal from the lineup.
The Penguins blue line enters Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden confident.
“Everyone is buying in to this system,” defenseman Simon Despres said. “Everyone is buying in to their roles. The chemistry is there.”
The defensemen are putting defense first.
Through 13 games, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff — known more for his offense — has been on the ice for only three even-strength goals against.
Rob Scuderi, Despres and Paul Martin have played in every game this season. Scuderi and Despres have been on the ice for just four goals against in even-strength situations, while Martin has been on the ice for only five such goals.
Kris Letang is the lone Penguins defenseman with an inflated number in that category.
Letang has been on the ice for 12 even-strength goals against in 13 games. He also has 12 points, is quarterbacking the NHL’s highest-rated power play and has teamed with Martin to become a formidable pair in recent games.
“Everyone’s getting the job done right now,” Martin said.
Players pointed to Johnston’s system. Defensemen often struggled with the complexities of former coach Dan Bylsma’s system. Earlier this season, Scuderi pointed out that Johnston’s system offers defensemen “two choices,” whereas Bylsma’s system often resulted in “four choices.”
“I think the biggest thing with this system is that we have the ability to … make decisions,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “If something’s not there, we don’t have to force it. We can turn back and give it to our partner.”
Bortuzzo said the system is a work in progress.
“Maybe there is a little more room just for playing hockey and making decisions,” he said. “We’re still watching video, still learning more every day.”
Letang and Martin have played well the past three games since being reunited in defenseman Olli Maatta’s absence.
A dominant pairing in last season’s playoffs, Martin and Letang have seven points since being paired.
Letang, however, said the pairings are irrelevant.
“Not my call,” Letang said. “But every single guy on this team is comfortable with one another.”