Penguins' Letang returning to dominant defensive form
EDMONTON, Alberta — Defenseman Kris Letang formally introduced himself to the NHL in Western Canada five years ago.
Letang is far more identifiable to NHL fans now, but like that venture during his rookie season, may have found his game out west once again.
Arguably the Penguins' dominant player in Tuesday's 5-4 victory in Vancouver, Letang drew high praise for his two-way performance.
“He was one of our best players at both ends of the rink,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
That hasn't always been the case this season.
Letang, who has been hobbled by injuries, played some of the poorest hockey of his NHL career in November, when turnovers off his stick became commonplace.
Following a three-week absence with an elbow infection, Letang looked shaky early against Winnipeg on Sunday.
Nothing about his game looked uncertain against the Canucks.
“I felt good out there,” Letang said. “My legs were good.”
So was his decision-making.
Letang read plays superbly all game, jumping into the play at appropriate times without taking unnecessary chances. This Letang — the one who leads rushes, uses his skating to shut down the opposition's best players and plays with a nasty streak — is precisely what the Penguins want to see.
“I think I did some good things out there,” Letang said.
He has a good history in Western Canadian venues, having produced shootout winners in Calgary and Vancouver during his 2007 rookie campaign.
Letang didn't get a chance to end Tuesday's game in a shootout — center Sidney Crosby took care of that — but his play did not go unnoticed. Multiple teammates spoke after the game of Letang's performance.
Finding the happy medium between being a presence on the rush without leaving defense partner Rob Scuderi hung out to dry is paramount to Letang's success. He was clicking on all cylinders against the Canucks, twice joining the play in the second period to perfection.
Goaltender Eddie Lack made a spectacular save on one Letang offering, while the defenseman fired a shot off the crossbar during another scoring opportunity in the second period.
“The one off the crossbar might have been his best shot,” Bylsma said. “He had two great chances coming on the second wave.”
Bylsma acknowledged that Letang's confidence level has been a problem this season.
“Kris had to get back into the mix,” Bylsma said. “He hasn't felt real comfortable for a lot of games. I'm not sure he was feeling his most confident in that (Winnipeg) game. But in this game, he was a real factor for us. His ability to get back up the ice, to defend, to be active was great.”
Letang registered six shots against Vancouver, a total exceeded only by right wing James Neal's seven.
In fact, Letang's goal late in the third period helped the Penguins pull off the comeback and gave him seven goals in only 24 games.
With Letang, however, the eye test is often more important than the numbers. And the coaching staff liked what it saw.
“He had so many good chances all night,” Bylsma said. “Even in overtime, you saw him breaking up plays in the defensive zone. He was really good.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins 4th line is showing promise
- Penguins notebook: Dupuis’ intangibles provide 1st-line value
- Crosby scores twice, Malkin delivers OT goal as Penguins beat Blues
- Dumoulin-Lovejoy combo emerges as Penguins’ go-to defensive tandem
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Malkin, Crosby come through as Penguins hold on for win
- Breaking down the ‘structure’ of Penguins system
- Penguins can’t solve Sharks’ defense in defeat
- Penguins notebook: Sharks assistants run game in DeBoer’s place
- Penguins notebook: Optional practice yields unusual defensemen demographic