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Letang on pace for best season

ST. LOUIS — Kris Letang isn't missing much this season for the Penguins, not even a lot of shots.

However, gone from his repertoire are those questions he often asked as way of seeking a measure of affirmation from teammates.

Did you like that goal?

Did you like that pass?

Did you like that play?

The irony is Letang would have a couple of goals, many more passes and several dozen plays worth asking about.

"He's always been really confident off the ice, but maybe not he has more of a realistic confidence," fellow Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think it's confidence, not cockiness ... maybe that just comes from experience."

Whatever the reason, Letang had looked like a bona fide top-pairing defenseman through eight games before the Penguins faced the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Saturday night. His eight points were second among NHL defensemen.

Letang's eighth point last season came in his 27th game.

There are a few reasons Letang's fourth NHL season is shaping up as his best.

His new defense partner, Paul Martin, is a tailor-made fit. Their partnership has provided the Penguins a smooth-skating top pairing that can cover the entire rink.

Orpik theorized a carryover from Letang's strong 2010 postseason. He scored five goals — four on the power play — connecting on 21.7 percent of his shots. He had scored only twice and recorded a 10.5 shooting percentage during the regular season.

Finally, armed with a new curve on his stick blade, Letang had misfired on only five shots. His 96 missed shots rated fourth worst among defensemen last season.

An adjustment on his shooting motion has also helped. Letang downplayed it, but his backswing is shorter on slap shots - witness his overtime goal Thursday night at Nashville, which more resembled a half-slapper.

"I like to use my wrist shot because it's quicker and I can control it better, so I'm trying to make my slapper like that," he said. "Goalies start to learn about players and learn their tendencies. I'm just trying to switch it up."

He certainly appears to have flipped a switch to start what perhaps is a breakout season.

"He's just playing, not really thinking the game," Orpik said. "Sometimes when you think the game that's when you tend to slow down. He's just making quick decisions and letting his skill take over. Obviously, he's one of the more skilled guys and better players you'll see."

Additional Information:

Going up

Defenseman Kris Letang had scored eight points (two goals, six assists) and registered 19 shots through eight games with the Penguins. A look when he hit those marks last season:

Goals (2) : 44 games

Assists (6) : 15

Shots (19) : 10

Source: NHL.com

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