Feb 5, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) during the first period against against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Niskanen's Role on Power Play Pivotal


Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin are injured, and their returns are uncertain.

Both of them were intricate pieces towards the Pens’ power play. Letang specifically.

Letang has that knack for posing as the man-advantage quarterback. Gliding up the ice and slotting into the point position, Letang plays a key role in distributing the puck, creating time and space for his teammates in order to capitalize on the opportunity given.

Martin, who arguably only saw time on the power play due to Letang being injured, wasn’t overly explosive on the first-unit, but provided a steady point presence. Although he only has garnered six points via the man-advantage this season, all being assists, his puck management was flawless, and he rarely caused a break in how it was flowing.

With both of them sidelined, it makes Matt Niskanen’s role that much more important.

Now, of course, there are certainly other players on the Pens’ power play that can stabilize its effectiveness, but playing the point serves as the brain – the unit moves as the brain tells it to. So, for Niskanen, his responsibilities have just increased.

Understandably though, Niskanen’s been running the point on the power play for a significant amount of time now. Due to how poised he’d been playing while Martin was out, Bylsma stuck with Niskanen even when Martin returned. And for the most part, Niskanen’s been a consistent producer.

Leading the entire NHL with a plus-29 rating, which is absolutely phenomenal, Niskanen’s compiled 34 points (7G, 27A), and currently sits tied for 10th in the league for scoring amongst defensemen. On the power play, Niskanen ranks tied for 11th in the NHL with 11 points (2G, 9A), and is sixth on the Pens’ roster for that amount – equaling Letang’s efforts (11 as well).

Letang’s also posted 11 power play points in 24 less outings than Niskanen, adding to how potent he is on the unit. There’s no doubt Letang will be missed, and it’ll really be unfortunate if he cannot return this season, however, Niskanen’s filled in just fine.

Showcasing that rocket of a shot, Niskanen, despite only registering two power play goals on the season, administers a different, yet, efficient threat to opposing penalty kills. At times, yes, when I watch him, he can make the bad pass, but that’s a constant between all NHL players. So, to single him out would be unfair.

Niskanen is underrated – no doubt.

For a guy who was speculated to be dealt at some point before the season began, probably due to the defensive depth, his salary, and impending free agency status, Niskanen’s been the most, besides Olli Maatta, reliable blueliner the Pens’ have. Performing in all of Pittsburgh’s games this season, Niskanen, whose had trouble remaining healthy in the past, has been there when the Pens’ needed him most.

Even though his power play duties are going to be crucial heading down the stretch, Niskanen’s firmly executed up to this point. However, because the Pens, to me, are most deadly when they’re on the man-advantage, Niskanen’s game for that pairing will be essential compassing into the playoffs.

So far though, he’s been great.

Let’s see if he can keep it up, especially during the postseason.

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