Penguins’ Kris Letang has up-and-down night in return from injury
RALEIGH, N.C. — Kris Letang nearly finished off his first game back after an 11-game absence due to an upper-body injury as a returning hero Tuesday night.
Instead, he ended it sitting in the locker room while his team lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The heroics came with the score tied 1-1 with less than five minutes left in regulation.
Brian Dumoulin cleared the rebound of a shot in front of the net to Sidney Crosby, who made a quick outlet pass to Jake Guentzel streaking up the right wing. The puck went from Guentzel to Bryan Rust at the left hash marks to Letang just inside the right hash marks for a shot over goalie Petr Mrazek.
Letang ranks second among NHL defensemen with 16 goals this season. He played nearly 27 minutes in his first game back in almost a month. When he was on the ice at five on five, the Penguins outshot the Hurricanes, 16-8.
“I thought he was great,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he was great all night.”
Letang’s night ended early thanks to referee Tim Peel. With a little more than two minutes left in overtime, Letang was whistled for slashing Carolina’s Sebastian Aho after he took a shot on a breakaway that was stopped by goalie Matt Murray.
Letang wouldn’t exactly call it a slash, however.
“I think I gave him a tap on the (backside),” Letang said. “I didn’t alter anything on that play. I literally reached, and I think I almost didn’t touch him. I don’t know why he called that. I don’t know. I was really, really surprised.”
He was also upset, and he picked up a 10-minute misconduct for arguing the call.
The Penguins killed the penalty, but because Letang was given a misconduct, he was ineligible for the shootout. Letang has 24 career shootout goals, second only to Crosby in Penguins history. His success rate is 36.4 percent.
He undoubtedly would have been one of Sullivan’s three shooters. Instead, Mrazek stopped Phil Kessel, Crosby and Guentzel, and the Penguins lost the shootout.
“It was kind of like hit or miss,” Letang said. “They were letting a lot of stuff go, but at one point, they were calling little stuff. You didn’t know what kind of calls there were going to be. It is what it is. I think we fought hard. We played a really good game. We have to move ahead and get ready for Nashville.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .