PITTSBURGH -- It felt like the Pittsburgh Penguins struck gold in 2019, when 22-year-old John Marino made the NHL club out of camp.
His impressive puck possession skills and smooth skating delighted fans and management as Pittsburgh finally had another talented right-handed defenseman. As an organization that is starved for youthful contributors, Marino was thrust into a top four role after his impressive 56-game rookie campaign.
After an up and down sophomore season, he again experienced some hardship this regular season, and the belief in how high his game can reach is dwindling. But through the start of the playoffs, glimpses of the former Marino have appeared.
Where did this sudden re-emergence come from?
The Penguins have demanded a lot from John Marino three years into his career. Unfortunately, it's easy to believe those expectations have worn down the young defenseman, negatively affecting his play.
One of the biggest keys to success during Marino's rookie year was his confidence. He played like he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He jumped into the offensive attack. He carried the puck out of danger areas with impressive success. His poise with the puck was beyond his years, bringing a calming sense every time he stepped on the ice.
Over the last two seasons, however, it seems Marino's confidence had taken a hit. He seemed less steady with the puck on his stick. His slightly underweight frame never appeared more evident, as he struggled to maintain control and clear out bodies against more physical players in front of the crease. Combined with a static offensive output, this led to many asking and wondering if Marino's ceiling is lower than most would care to admit.
But the playoffs have a funny way of changing things. For many teams and players, they are trying to build on the season just completed. But for some players, like Marino, it's better to think of the playoffs as a clean slate and a time to begin anew.
The regular season and all of the disappointments are a distant memory after a week of playoff hockey. So what's the difference for Marino?
It's simple. He's playing like he has nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it's working.
He has confidence again, and the Marino we've hoped for is slowly starting to emerge into this run.
He has committed himself to putting pucks on net and getting more involved offensively, with a great assist on Evgeni Malkin's game-winning goal in Game 1.
Not only has he stepped up offensively, he's done it in all three zones. In his first shift in Game 4 against the Rangers, he made an excellent mid-air deflection to deny a New York pass attempt. This play was simply a microcosm for his disruptive stick work all game long. He followed that up with a shot block on Artemi Panarin's first attempt of the game.
Marino's commitment to the details in all areas of his game is paying massive dividends for this Pittsburgh Penguins team.
With each game in this Penguins and Rangers series, Marino looks better, smoother, and more poised. And the confidence he's displaying isn't going unnoticed.
Coach Sullivan is turning to him with higher degrees of frequency and trust. This is highlighted most by the deployment of Marino and Chad Ruhwedel as the first defensive pair on the ice for a penalty kill.
With the absence of Brian Dumoulin, it's clear the increased defensive burden falls on Marino's shoulders. It's also clear that he is responding in the best way imaginable, and the Penguins couldn't be happier.
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