ShareThis Page

Pens' Letang, Orpik mesh nicely

| Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

Kris Letang plays with an air of confidence rarely seen in a 21-year-old defenseman.

Off the ice, however, Letang needs a steady dose of reassurance.

"He's always asking me, 'Do you think we played well; do you think we played well?' " said Letang's veteran defense partner, Brooks Orpik. "I say, 'As long as (the coaches aren't) saying anything to us and we're still together, I guess we're playing well.' "

Their ice-time numbers would indicate that the coaches are pleased. Of players who've appeared in at least 10 games with the Penguins this season, only Sidney Crosby (22:41 per game) has logged more ice than Letang (22:22). Orpik (21:24) is fourth, behind Evgeni Malkin (22:20).

Coach Michel Therrien figured Letang was the best option to take injured Sergei Gonchar's spot next to Orpik during training camp.

At this rate, the duo might never be separated.

The Penguins' goals-against average has not suffered, sitting at 2.56 compared to last year's figure of 2.58, and it's often Letang and Orpik pitted against the other team's top line.

Therrien will always seek to deploy the two -- both outstanding skaters -- against speedy lines, in particular. If the opposing team's top line depends more on puck possession and isn't especially quick, he will use the Rob Scuderi-Hal Gill pairing.

Letang takes comfort in playing next to a rock-solid defensive presence in Orpik.

"We complement each other really well," Letang said. "He's a stay-at-home defenseman, really good in the zone, and he's always talking a lot on the ice for me."

If Orpik isn't easing Letang's worries about their performance, he is telling him to quit obsessing about a goal-scoring drought that has reached 46 games, including playoffs.

Letang hasn't scored since March 12 against Buffalo, though he is third on the team in assists with nine.

"He's always worried about, 'Oh, I don't have a goal this year,' " Orpik said. "I say, 'Tanger, I don't care if you don't score all year, as long as you're playing well and getting the pucks to the forwards and making a good first pass. Don't worry about goals. If you start worrying about that, your defensive game will suffer."

Therrien concurs.

"Eventually, the offensive numbers will get there," Therrien said. "I'm not worried about that. For us -- and it was the same even with Gonchar -- we want to make sure he is a solid defensive defenseman first."

Letang uses his strong lower body, stick skills and superior skating ability to his advantage in the defensive end. His first pass is consistently good, and if he gets caught in the offensive zone, his speed allows him to rush back into position.

He also likes to hit people.

"More physical than I thought he was," said Orpik, who knows a thing or two about that aspect of the game.

A third-round pick (62nd overall) in 2005, Letang appeared on the Penguins' radar late, thanks to veteran scout Chuck Grillo. Turned out he was perfect for the post-lockout NHL, which put a premium on swift, puck-moving defensemen -- even those who stand under 6 feet, such as the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Letang.

Hall-of-Fame coach Scotty Bowman made special note of Letang while scouting the Penguins for the Detroit Red Wings last season.

"A lot of people maybe haven't said it," Bowman said at the time, "but I think they had a big change when they got Letang in the lineup."

Letang appreciates all the kind words, but he really would like to find the back of the net one of these days.

"I think about it a little bit," he admitted, "because some people are talking about it."

He laughed and added, "I'm not focusing on scoring a goal or taking some chances to do it, but I am hoping it goes in some time."


Penguins leaders in ice time:

*Philippe Boucher
23:00 avg. ice time

Sidney Crosby
22:41 avg. ice time

Kris Letang
22:22 avg. ice time

Evgeni Malkin
22:20 avg. ice time

Brooks Orpik
21:24 avg. ice time

*--played in only three games

NHL leaders in ice time:

Jay Bouwmeester (Fla).
28:24 avg. ice time

Dion Phaneuf (Calgary)
28:16 avg. ice time

Duncan Keith (Chi.)
27:18 avg. ice time

Bryan Allen (Fla.)
27:11 avg. ice time

S. Niedermayer (Ana.)
26:35 avg. ice time

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.