As predicted at the time of his signing, we didn't talk about Paul Martin much this season. For a defensive-defender, that's probably a compliment. He doesn't make flashy plays and certainly isn't likely to contribute much offensively, but if you key in on him in the defensive zone he's sure to impress.
Martin's zone entry disruption stands out as my favorite aspect of his game. When a Kings player attempts to gain the Sharks blue line on Martin's side of the ice, very rarely does he succeed without losing control of the puck. Martin perfected this play, which effectively sees the defender seal off the offensive player with a hip check while also using his stick to try to gain control of the puck.
Martin makes zone entries hell for the opposition and that showed up in his possession stats last night. The chart below, from the excellent www.hockeyviz.com, shows players score-adjusted shots for on the x-axis and their score-adjusted shots against on the y-axis.
The Sharks, as a whole, played very well last night, but Martin in particular stands out here for his great possession play. Looking at the box score doesn't tell Martin's story — he didn't have a shot on goal, blocked one shot and only laid one hit out last night. In comparison his defense partner, Brent Burns, notched two points, four shots on goal and a pair of blocked shots.
It's easy to remember Burns miscues from last night, too, particularly in defending the shorthanded 2-on-1 the Kings cashed in on. That's not to say Burns isn't a valuable defender — I think he's extremely valuable — but it shows how diametrically opposite the two defenders are. Everything Burns does, from eating postgame pizza to scoring big goals to sliding on his belly on the ice, stands out. He does nothing quietly.
On the contrary, everything Martin does seems understated or reserved. His play on the ice is calculated, suggesting incredible vision and hockey sense. He seems to lull forwards into a false sense of security, allowing them to believe they can skate right at him, and then right by him, before he uses the active stick to break up a play and get possession for the Sharks.
Martin provides more than excellent defensive coverage for Burns, he's a calm, quiet presence on the Sharks blue line and makes plays that just don't get highlighted enough. Case in point: searching Paul Martin's name on the NHL's Video page will give you some shots on goal, but none of the great defensive work Martin provides on a game-to-game basis. It's okay that he operates under the radar, we all know just how important he is to this team.
Hey, couldn't hurt to buy his No. 7 jersey though, right?