- Craig Custance
For a few minutes of their Game 4 win over the New York Rangers, it was a little bit like the regular season. Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen were disappearing and more responsibility was passed around for those left on the ice. It worked out fine in this game, just as it did during the regular season. Part of the reason for both: the constant availability and effectiveness of Matt Niskanen.
During a regular season in which Kris Letang played only 37 games, Paul Martin 39 and Rob Scuderi 53, Niskanen led all Penguins defensemen in games played at 81. He led all Penguins defensemen in points with 46. He finished the season plus-33, better than any other defenseman in the league. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins controlled 53.4 percent of the shot attempts, second only to Jussi Jokinen among players who played at least 62 games (per ExtraSkater.com).
It was a breakout season for Niskanen.
First it was Brooks Orpik who went down, hurt again early on in his return to the lineup on Wednesday night. Then Kris Letang was off the ice for a stretch because of an apparent equipment issue.