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Top heavy - 04-26-11

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

(Note: Game 7 is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start.)

Late in the regular season, one NHL coach repeatedly called Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek the best group of top four defensemen in the league. Few would argue that point given how much the Penguins defense improved statistically in 2010-11.

And judging by how he has used them so far in the postseason, Dan Bylsma has validated that notion. All four have played a ton of minutes thus far in playoffs.

But is it too much? Are Letang, Orpik, Martin and Michalek being worn out? We saw all six pairs of defensemen - including Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen (above) - get beaten for goals.

Thus far, the Penguins have used their top four defensemen the most in the postseason.

(Note: For the sake of our list, we designated a team's "top four" in these playoff as those who have the highest average ice time.)

Team Top Four
Defensemen
Average
Ice Time
Cumulative
Average
Penguins Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin
27:28
26:34
24:49
24:37
25:52
Bruins Zdeno Chara
Dennis Seidenberg
Johnny Boychuk
Andrew Ference
29:02
28:25
22:30
21:10
25:16
Rangers Marc Staal
Dan Girardi
Michael Sauer
Ryan McDonagh
28:01
27:01
23:16
22:49
25:16
Canadiens P.K. Subban
Hal Gill
Roman Hamrlik
James Wisniewski
29:32
25:04
23:24
21:34
24:53
Flyers Andrej Meszaros
Kimmo Timonen
Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle
26:28
24:50
24:07
22:30
24:44
Capitals Scott Hannan
John Carlson
Karl Alzner
Jeff Schultz
25:11
25:09
23:35
23:15
24:17
Kings Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell
Jack Johnson
Rob Scuderi
27:03
24:17
22:42
20:49
23:42
Blackhawks Duncan Keith
Brian Campbell
Brent Seabrook
Chris Campoli
26:59
26:02
22:49
18:55
23:41
Canucks Dan Hamhuis
Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler
Christian Ehrhoff
24:36
24:35
23:33
22:18
23:30
Predators Ryan Suter
Shea Weber
Kevin Klein
Jonathan Blum
27:28
26:29
20:27
17:55
23:04
Sabres Chris Butler
Tyler Myers
Marc-Andre Gragnani
Jordan Leopold
24:35
23:44
21:45
20:06
22:30
Sharks Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray
Jason Demers
27:10
21:20
20:02
19:54
22:06
Ducks Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman
23:32
22:13
21:21
20:09
21:48
Lightning Eric Brewer
Victor Hedman
Mattias Ohlund
Brett Clark
25:48
22:16
20:18
18:50
21:48
Red Wings Niklas Kronwall
Brian Rafalski
Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson
22:24
21:19
20:50
19:36
21:02
Coyotes Keith Yandle
Michal Rozsival
Adrian Aucoin
Rostislav Klesla
25:50
19:54
19:17
17:43
20:41

And not surpisingly, the Penguins haven't used the bottom pairing of Lovejoy or Niskanen a great deal. Here's how they stack up against the other 15 playoff team's "bottom two:"

Team Bottom Two
Defensemen
Average
Ice Time
Cumulative
Average
Capitals Mike Green
John Erskine
21:00
15:39
18:19
Sharks Ian White
Niclas Wallin
17:32
17:10
17:21
Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom
Ruslan Salei
19:34
16:18
17:56
Lightning Pavel Kubina
Mike Lundin
16:54
15:08
16:01
Rangers Bryan McCabe
Matt Gilroy
19:13
15:40
17:26
Bruins Tomas Kaberle
Adam McQuaid
20:13
14:33
17:23
Blackhawks Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy
18:44
14:53
16:53
Canadiens Jaroslav Spacek
Brent Sopel
17:58
14:52
16:25
Sabres Mike Weber
Steve Montador
16:45
15:45
16:15
Coyotes David Schlemko
Ed Jovanovski
15:54
15:24
15:39
Ducks Luca Sbisa
Sheldon Brookbank
16:29
14:35
15:32
Kings Matt Greene
Alec Martinez
16:44
13:29
15:06
Canucks Sami Salo
Keith Ballard
15:27
12:52
14:09
Predators Shane O’Brien
Cody Franson
15:24
13:00
14:12
Penguins Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy
13:12
11:07
12:09
Flyers Sean O’Donnell
Danny Syvret
13:47
7:35
10:41

A few of the names on the "bottom two" which obviously stand out are Lidstrom and Green, both all-stars. Their teams have been able to limit the minutes for the 41-year-old Lidstrom and Green, who has dealt with head injuries. Coincidentally, the Red Wings and Capitals won their first-round series in four and five games respectively.

To break it down even further, here's the difference in average ice time for all 16 teams "top four" and "bottom two" defensemen:

Team Top Four
Average Ice Time
Bottom Two
Average Ice Time
Difference
Flyers 24:44 10:41 14:03
Penguins 25:52 12:09 13:43
Canucks 23:30 14:09 9:21
Predators 23:04 14:12 8:52
Canadiens 24:53 16:25 8:28
Kings 23:42 15:06 8:36
Bruins 25:16 17:23 7:53
Rangers 25:16 17:26 7:50
Blackhawks 23:41 16:48 6:53
Ducks 21:48 15:32 6:16
Sabres 22:30 16:15 6:15
Capitals 24:17 18:19 5:58
Lightning 21:48 16:01 5:47
Coyotes 20:41 15:39 5:02
Sharks 22:06 17:21 4:45
Red Wings 21:02 17:56 3:06

We have to imagine the Flyers' numbers would be more to the middle of the pack if all-everything defenseman Chris Pronger was completely healthy. With that assumption, the Penguins would have the most imbalanced defensive workload in terms of ice time.

Can the Penguins keep on leaning on Letang, Orpik, Martin and Michalek? Or do than need to rely on Lovjeoy, Niskanen or even Deryk Engelland more?

The real question might be, can they rely on the bottom two?

(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)

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