Penguins' Letang, Scuderi in feeling-out process
At first glance, they couldn't be more opposite.
One is American, the other French Canadian. One plays steadily, simply, almost to the point of boredom; the other is talented and flashy almost to the point of madness.
Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang, though, share one important element: Both are serious about making their pairing work.
“It's going to take a while,” Scuderi said, “but we're getting there.”
Although the Penguins deploy Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin as their “shutdown pair,” the coaching staff views Letang as its No. 1 defenseman, the organization pays him like its No. 1 defenseman, and the intention is to utilize him in such a role this spring, despite his struggles through the season's first half.
General manager Ray Shero in July signed Scuderi to a four-year contract to play with Letang, giving Scuderi the steady partner he hasn't had since regularly playing with Orpik two years ago.
Scuderi and Letang have been plagued by injuries this season, and in limited time together, chemistry hasn't been very noticeable. Scuderi started the season playing well with defenseman Matt Niskanen but is a minus-1. Letang is a minus-7.
“You know, this league isn't some giant video game,” Scuderi said. “It's not going to come right away. You don't just take a guy from one team, put him on another team and expect him to do exactly what he did with the other team. It takes time.”
Scuderi helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009, but he was paired with defenseman Hal Gill. Letang played with Mark Eaton.
Scuderi and Letang never played together until training camp in September. But Letang was injured and missed the first nine games. They then played all of four periods together before Scuderi was injured.
“I'd love to give them a grade on how they've done,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “But (six) games ago, we're saying they only have played four periods together. They just haven't played a ton of hockey together yet. They haven't played enough together yet for me to say that it's going as planned or that it's working out as we thought.”
Both defensemen are preaching patience.
“It's tough because he was with another team for a while,” Letang said. “When you're with another team, you probably learn some new habits and do things a different kind of way. But we're finally starting to get some games together now.”
The Penguins believe Letang found his game two weeks ago in Vancouver, and he has been more reliable defensively since then while continuing his offensive production (10 goals in 32 games).
Letang insists the duo will be fine.
“You always know where he's going to be,” Letang said.
The Penguins hope the pairing will be peaking when the playoffs arrive.
“I think we're getting better together every game,” Scuderi said. “It's a work in progress.”