CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Jacques Martin ran many of the drills at Pittsburgh Penguins practice today at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. There’s nothing to be read into that. Coach Mike Sullivan is comfortable delegating to his assistants, and Martin has reams of experience as a former head coach and general manager.
Later, Martin, whose main responsibilities with the Penguins focus on defense including Kris Letang, spoke with several reporters before the team flew to Toronto to start a road trip Thursday. Here is what he had to say:
Question: Why are there more left-handed defensemen than right-handed defensemen?
Martin: It’s the same with forwards. I think there’s always been more left shots. I think it’s kind of decreased over the years. I think there’s more and more now compared to 10, 15 years ago. Sometimes teams, they don’t have many right shots, but now I think it’s more balanced.
Q: How rare is it to have two or three players who can play on their off side?
Martin: If you look at Europeans, I think in the past a lot of European defensemen ended up playing on their wrong side. I think it goes back to the fact that a lot of the players were left-handed shots, so they learned to play both sides. I think on a lot of teams now, a lot of left shots can play the right side as well. I think sometimes there’s some advantage to it as far as being able to see the middle of the ice better.
Q: How much different do you think Kris Letang is right now as opposed to last year at this time?
Martin: I think he seems to be playing with a lot more confidence. I think his execution is much better. You can’t forget the major surgery he had (in spring 2017). In a lot of cases, it takes time for players to get their timing back and get their confidence back after such an important surgery. I think this year with a good summer of work in the gym and skating, he seems to be playing with an edge, playing with a confidence that allowed him to have success in the past.
Q: Olli (Maatta) hasn’t had the start he would like. What have you seen from him, and what does he need to get better at?
Martin: I think a couple things. One, I think just simplify his game. Just maybe take what’s given. Don’t look for something better. Quicker puck movement. I think his strength is an ability to read the play. He’s got great vision. He’s one of our best as far as making that first pass out of our zone. I think the other area is for him to play with an edge, maybe play in front of our net harder. I think those are areas that we expect a little more. But I think he’s a good defenseman who supports the attack, has a good shot from the blue line, and he’s a big part of our team.
Q: Toronto has been lights-out in terms of offense, not just (Auston) Matthews, but overall. When you play a team like that, is it something that can bring a defense together because they have to?
Martin: It’s the whole team. It’s probably a good challenge, for sure. They’re a good young team. They’re hungry. They’ve got good speed. I think their depth is very good. It’s good for us to face them. I think it’s going to be a good challenge for our team. We’ve had some good games in the past. I expect the same. It’s the type of game you’ve got to play well away from the puck. You’ve got to manage the puck. In some cases, that’s the area where we can improve, managing the puck, and also our support for the puck. I think if we do those two things it will help us.
Q: When you’re a right-handed (defensemen) like Kris (Letang) or Justin (Schultz) or Chad (Ruhwedel), does that add to your value in terms of how a coach might use you or even as a free agent.
Martin: I think it’s not just the shot. I think it’s what you bring to the table as a player. It’s always been noted in the past, yes, right-handed defensemen are at kind of a premium. But I think you have to be able to defend well. You’ve got to be able to join the attack and produce offensively as well. So there’s some other elements that are crucial in making you a player that’s high value.