Letang dazzles with dynamic play in Game 5 win
Defenseman Kris Letang passed his old mentor, Sergei Gonchar, on the franchise's all-time postseason scoring list Friday.
He also badly outclassed Gonchar and his contemporary, Erik Karlsson, while igniting the Penguins' charge in a 6-2 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Ottawa Senators.
Letang is now tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin for second in the NHL in postseason scoring with 16 points. He led all players in the series with 10 points.
“He's pretty impressive,” defenseman Douglas Murray said.
Letang was enduring a tumultuous postseason through nine games, his production as consistent as his turnovers.
Then something happened in Game 4 in Ottawa.
In the past five periods of the series, Letang produced one goal and five assists. Coach Dan Bylsma decided to place Letang with old defense partner Mark Eaton after the first period in Game 4, and the plan worked to perfection.
“It's a comfortable pair,” Bylsma said. “They've played a lot together, both this year and in the past. Kris was playing the off side with (Matt) Niskanen at times in Game 4. That wasn't the strongest period in Game 4. We switched our pairs at that time. It worked well. Kris is comfortable there.”
A comfortable Letang is a dangerous Letang.
With Eaton by his side, Letang suddenly stopped committing turnovers and whistling the puck blindly into the neutral zone. Instead, the Norris Trophy nominee played a more thoughtful game, making the right plays while letting his unparalleled athleticism do the rest.
He essentially put Game 5 away with two terrific plays in the second period, one of the cerebral variety and the other that required nothing but exquisite skill.
Letang wisely threw a puck at goalie Craig Anderson's feet from behind the net in the second period. Right wing James Neal was there to tap it in.
Later in the period, Letang skated down the left wing, swerved violently toward the slot and buried a shot past Anderson.
The goal was beauty, but Letang was more pleased with his solid defensive work during a plus-3 evening.
“You can't really look at it that way,” said Letang, when it was mentioned that he is now second in the NHL in playoff scoring. “We have to see how I play defensively. Just have to make sure I do a good job in my own end. When you do that, you get rewarded.”
Letang's 10 points are the most he has ever produced in a series and only three fewer than he scored during the 2009 Stanley Cup playoff run.
His numbers not only led all scorers in the series but dwarfed those of Karlsson and Gonchar.
The pair finished with two assists apiece. Karlsson was a minus-5 during the series, Gonchar a minus-7.
Statistically, Letang stood alone.
Among NHL defenseman, he might also stand alone if he can bottle his performance from the previous five periods.
“I played against him for a long time so I know how good he is,” goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “He's got everything there is to have, from talent to skating ability, to vision. Everything. He works hard, too. When you have a person like that, the success, it's got to come.”
Did it ever.