Defenseman Letang appears ready to return to Penguins' lineup
By Josh Yohe
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 6:42 p.m.
The Penguins rarely make it public when an injured player is about to return.
A look at Wednesday's workout at Southpointe, however, made it pretty clear defenseman Kris Letang is likely to play Friday against the New York Islanders.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Letang said. “That was the main concern about the injury, making sure I was 100 percent. I didn't want to take any chances coming back.”
Two things suggested Letang will play when the Penguins host the Islanders on Friday:
• Letang worked on the top power-play unit with forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, along with defenseman Paul Martin. In previous years, injured players such as Crosby, Malkin and Letang have started working on the first power play only when their returns were imminent.
• Letang skated with defenseman Rob Scuderi, whom the Penguins signed this summer with the intention of being paired with Letang. Previously, Letang was skating in practice with defensemen not regularly in the lineup.
The Penguins have been more explosive with Letang in the lineup. He was the only defenseman in the league to average more than a point per game last season, compiling 38 points in 35 games of the shortened season, which he missed a portion of because of an injury. Letang has 130 points in 168 games the past three seasons.
“He's obviously a pretty special player,” Crosby said.
Crosby is eager to see Letang move the puck up the ice, especially on the power play. He said few players have Letang's agility and puck-carrying skills.
“He definitely makes an impact out there,” Crosby said. “He can join the rush quickly, and that's a strength. There are a lot of guys who know how to make that first pass, but not a lot of guys have that ability to join the rush like he does.”
Scuderi said he believes Letang's return will have a positive impact on the team, especially for defenseman who have been sharing the power-play and penalty-killing responsibilities that contribute to Letang playing nearly 30 minutes per game some nights.
“I think it will make things easier, having him back,” Scuderi said. “He does a little bit of everything out there, so I think the load will be lighter on all of us.”
Scuderi and Letang didn't play together during Scuderi's first stint with the Penguins. They played full seasons together in 2007 and 2008 before Scuderi left to play for the Los Angeles Kings.
Still, the veteran defenseman said he doesn't believe it will take long for the duo to thrive. Scuderi played with Drew Doughty, a player with similar skills to Letang, in Los Angeles.
“We had a good preseason working on things together,” Scuderi said of Letang. “We were starting to feel pretty good. Unfortunately, he was injured. It may take a few shifts or a few periods to jell again, but I'm confident that it will work.”
So is Letang.
The 26-year-old, who signed an eight-year, $58 million extension in July, has been patient while dealing with the injury to his right knee. The Penguins' new, more conservative system, which theoretically doesn't mesh with his aggressive style, does not faze him.
“It will be fine,” he said. “I want to be aggressive, and I can keep doing that. Everyone has to buy into a system to make it work. I feel good about everything.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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