Kris Letang returns to Penguins lineup vs. Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. – Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made his return from an upper-body injury Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, starting the game in his customary spot on the right side of the team’s top defense pair with Brian Dumoulin.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Letang said. “It’s just a question of putting it all together. It was really hard because the calendar, it doesn’t allow me to practice with the team. It’s kind of hard. The last week has been a good week.”
Letang suffered an upper-body injury when he was tackled by Shayne Gostisbehere in the first period of the outdoor game Feb. 23 in Philadelphia.
His return was slowed by several factors. For one thing, the Penguins have practiced on a non-game day only twice in March. For another, Letang was out with an illness for a few days in the interim.
“It takes a little bit longer, but there’s no timeframe on this,” Letang said. “It’s just a question of feeling comfortable.”
Letang is in the midst of a strong season. He ranks second among NHL defensemen with 15 goals and seventh with 53 points in 60 games. He consistently drives possession, and when he’s been on the ice at five on five, the Penguins have outscored opponents, 68-46.
“I felt I hit my stride early in the season and I was building on it and everything was going well, and then kind of a fluke little thing,” Letang said. “Getting back out there is going to be fun. It’s been a long time, almost a month.”
In Letang’s absence, the Penguins have transformed their style of play to a degree, both scoring and allowing fewer goals.
Before he was hurt, they scored 3.43 and allowed 3.10 goals per game. In his absence, they scored 3.28 and allowed 2.27.
It’s impossible to know how Letang’s return will change that dynamic, but that’s not something coach Mike Sullivan is worrying about.
“Our D have done a terrific job, but he’s an impact player,” Sullivan said. “He’s an elite player. He’s an impact player. He plays in so many situations for us. I think we’re certainly a better team when he’s in our lineup.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .