Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of The Face-Off Circle. In this feature, one of our Bolts will face off against an opposing player of the team the Lightning face next. We will see how the two match up against each other, their respective teams, and against the rest of the league.
In today’s edition of The Face-Off Circle, the in-conference rivalries are continued as the Tampa Bay Lightning play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tonight’s Face-Off Circle is rather different, as it does not include forwards. Rather, this time I’ll focus in on a couple of key players that sometimes get overlooked. That’s right, it’s a great time to be a defenseman now because we see the Bolts’ defensive star Victor Hedman facing off with Pittsburgh’s veteran defender Paul Martin. PUCK DROP!
Paul Martin is a 32-year old veteran who has been in the league for nine years, but was drafted in the 2000 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played in the minors for three years before he made his NHL debut in the 2003-04 season in which he played in 70 games for the Devils. As a member of the Devils, Martin was able to develop the essential skills needed to be a great defenseman in the NHL and used them to protect Martin Brodeur for six years. Martin, 6’1″ 200 lbs, is very physical player who is not afraid to lay into someone but is also intelligent enough to know when to go for the puck rather than put a big hit on a player. However, in 2009 Martin suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left fracture in his left forearm that caused him to only play in 22 games that season, his final season in New Jersey. That off-season, Martin signed with the Penguins and has been with them ever since.
When Martin has played against the Lightning in the past, he has been very productive for a defensman of his type. In 27 games against the Bolts, he has scored just four times while tacking on nine assists. I understand that those stats are not too exciting and don’t seem productive but you’ve got to remember he is a defenseman. The main time he gets looks is when he is controlling the puck at the point (near the blue line just inside the offensive zone). Not to mention he hustles back on defense on every single play and is emerging as a leader in that locker room for the defensmen.
Now it’s time to look at one of the many young talents on this Lightning team, 22-year old Victor Hedman. Hedman came into the league at the age of 18 and has been a player of great impact since he first stepped onto the ice for Tampa Bay. In his rookie year of 2009-10, Hedman played in 74 of Tampa’s 82 games accruing twenty points on four goals and 16 assists in the year. He has progressively gotten better over the next few years, as he has transitioned into a tough hard-nosed defender. Standing tall at 6’6″ and weighing 229 lbs, Hedman does not shy away from the physical nature of a defenseman, but instead embraces it! Players are scared to even go near him because of how large he is, giving him a Zdeno Chara-esque intimidation.
Since coming into the league with the Bolts in 2009, Hedman has played in twelve games against the Penguins in which he has only been able to accrue five points off of five assists. Again, this may not seem like a very productive stat-line but Hedman has been doing his job in these games, to slow down the explosive offense of the Penguins. Obviously, it has been tough to do this job seeing as Pittsburgh has multiple scorers including All-Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He has played his role as enforcer to the best of his ability and now that the Bolts have some young talent on the defensive side of the puck, the workload should be lifted off of Hedman a bit.
Both of these defenders are great players and can easily change the pace of a game with one poke-check or defensive steal. However, watch for Hedman to really stand out on home-ice tonight and slow down the Penguins’ offense that has already scored fifteen goals this season. Martin will be a key factor for Pittsburgh but will face the challenge of slowing down a Lightning offense that thrives off of the home-ice and crowd noise. Tonight’s game will have a playoff atmosphere with it, as all Lightning-Pittsburgh games do. Go Bolts!