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Penguins again lose star defenseman Letang to possible concussion

| Friday, March 2, 2012

DENVER -- When Penguins coach Dan Bylsma saw Kris Letang on the ice Wednesday night in Dallas, he didn't consider how difficult replacing the All-Star defenseman would be.

He didn't ponder how the team's power play might struggle without Letang or how other defenders might be forced to extend themselves without his minutes-eating star.

The only thing he saw was a player who might have suffered his second concussion in a three-month span when he took a hit to the head from Stars left wing Eric Nystrom.

"The significance of the hit. Kris being down on the ice," Bylsma said. "(The possibility of a concussion) was the first thing I thought of."

The situation grew worse Thursday: The 24-year-old star reported to the Penguins' medical staff that he was dealing with concussion symptoms, and Byslma said he would be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh.

Letang missed nearly two months earlier this season after a hit from Montreal's Max Pacioretty left him with a concussion. Six weeks after returning, he could be dealing with another.

"It was a bad situation for Kris," Bylsma said. "It's whether you've had one or a couple before. You're concerned for the player's health. He took a hard hit."

And now it's a bad situation for the Penguins because Bylsma might be forced once again to compensate for the loss of a star. His squad has played well without captain Sidney Crosby, emerging as a Stanley Cup contender without hockey's biggest name.

But the possibility of again playing an extended period without Letang is different. Center Evgeni Malkin shares many of Crosby's gifts and has been able to exceed his normal production, but there is not another defensemen on the roster who can match Letang's production. Few in the NHL can.

"He's been really good," Bylsma said. "But we played a significant amount of games without Kris back there."

Without Letang in the lineup, the Penguins are barely better than a .500 team this season — 12-11-0 — and their special teams are not nearly as strong. Heavy pressure falls on Matt Niskanen, who will take Letang's point position on the power play Saturday at Colorado.

"We had success with Matt there," Bylsma said. "The bigger question is whether (fellow point man) Steve Sullivan can play the next game."

Sullivan (lower-body injury) is questionable for tomorrow. If he can't play, Paul Martin would take his spot on the power play. Ben Lovejoy will replace Letang in the lineup.

The NHL announced Thursday that Nystrom will not face punishment for the hit.

"I think it's a tough call," Penguins left wing Matt Cooke said. "The league is doing the best job it can to assess everything."

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