Tag Archives: Kris Letang

Taking a Closer Look at Kris Letang

With the Penguins on their league-mandated bye week, we have some time to reflect over the Penguins first 44 games. They went into the break on a high note, winning back to back games against the Islanders and Bruins respectively. The 42 games before that were hard to swallow.

A big part of the Penguins’ issues have been the performance of their stars. The brightest spot for Pittsburgh has by far been Phil Kessel, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been inconsistent. Even Crosby recently admitted that he doesn’t deserve a spot in the all star game.

The biggest disappointment of this season has been the performance of Kris Letang. Either way you cut it, Letang’s season has been one of his worst to date. His advanced stats are down, his shot percentage is at a career-low, and his plus-minus (for what it’s worth) is way down at -13.

The eye test has probably been the most damning evidence for Letang. He just doesn’t look like the same player. There are flashes of the player that Letang has become over his career, but then he’s back to bad giveaways and other lapses.

One thing that’s also noticeable is how Letang has seemed to be avoiding contact more often than usual. It’s completely understandable. He’s dealt with more health issues than someone should ever have to deal with in a hockey career. His latest neck surgery that kept him out for months could be the catalyst for a more timid playing style, but part of what made Letang great was his aggressive play.

Now, in no way are the Penguins at risk for missing the playoffs based on Letang’s play alone. As a matter of fact, the Penguins will need him if they are to make another run at the Cup. Yes, they won without him in the playoffs last season, but the Penguins aren’t as deep up front this season and will need as much support from the back end as possible. Letang’s ability to break out of the zone is valuable by itself.

Letang may be trying to find a slightly different way to play to help lengthen his career, but if he is, he may never be the same player again. He’s 30 years old and is approaching the end of his prime. He can definitely still be one of the better defensemen in the league, but his best days may be behind him.

There are still 38 games left this season, and Letang’s performance seems to be trending upward lately, so he may be turning a corner. Very few would be happier than myself if he finds his form again. Overall, his health is key. Having a more timid Letang in the lineup is better than no Letang at all.

Letang is crucial to the Penguins’ success and is a part of the core group that the team is built around. Everyone should be rooting for his success. If the Penguins make a run for a “three-peat,” he will be a big reason why.

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The Best and Worst of The Penguins in One Night

On Sunday night, the Penguins won a rollercoaster of a game against the Boston Bruins 6-5 in overtime. The Bruins were fresh off a 7-1 victory in Boston against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that the Penguins just can’t seem to figure out. This game had potential to be very good and very bad and we got exactly that. The best (and worst) of both worlds.

The first period is a prime example of how this game was being pulled every which way. Bruins score 1:51 into the frame because the Penguins defense continue to forget that leaving people in front of your net is a bad thing and usually results in more bad things.

Ryan Spooner gets his 4th of the year and we’re in for a treat. A couple minutes later the Penguins are cycling well down low, which was one of the exceptionally good portions of their game Sunday, and work it up to the hockey form of a stone giant in Jamie Oleksiak who nets his 3rd of the year on a shot Tuukka Rask probably should have stopped.

The Penguins get a powerplay and Phil Kessel gets a feed from Sidney Crosby and is given more than 0.001 seconds to shoot and that’s never good for the opposing team. The powerplay king scores his 18th of the year and continues to lead the league in powerplay points. Kris Letang scores to add on and the Penguins go into the first period up 3-1.

Pretty good start right? Well this is where I would describe the hockey as being bad. Very bad, very quickly.

In no way was this Tristan Jarry‘s best night. He didn’t get much help on defense as Boston scores 4 goals on 7 shots in the second period and the Penguins are handling the puck like a live hand grenade. Turnovers were handed out like candy on Halloween.

Then something that hasn’t happened virtually all year happened. The Penguins have been having trouble scoring goals when they need them. For example, when you’re being bombarded with shots and you can’t generate much offense, the best defense against that is a goal to stop the bleeding. The Penguins were awarded another powerplay and desperately needed a goal to end this atrocious period. Sure enough, Sid, to Evgeni Malkin, to the back of the net and the second period ends 5-4.

Third period starts and the Penguins seem to be buzzing. Play is really going both ways when Riley Sheahan catches a break and gets a step on Boston’s D. Another shot Rask should have stopped but they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

At this point the hockey has plateaued. Then Brad Marchand gets loose. Marchand gets slashed. Marchand gets a penalty shot. Did I mention Matt Murray is now in net? Murray stops Marchand and eventually we go to overtime.

Overtime was incredibly one sided. Penguins possessed the puck almost the entire time with Boston continually on their heels defensively. Finally Kessel busts into the zone with speed and after a few quick passes with Malkin, Geno buries it and everyone goes home happy.

This was the best I’ve seen the Penguins play and the worst I’ve seen the Penguins play. Daniel Sprong does in fact need defensive development. Shocker. I thought those scouts were lying the entire time. Crosby is returning to form. Malkin went nuts offensively but was incredibly lazy defensively. Goaltending on both sides was subpar besides Murray.

As I said, it was the best and the worst of the Penguins all in one night.

Is Trading Letang Actually A Good Thing?

Before I get into my point, I want to make a public disclaimer: I am not necessarily on the “trade Letang” bandwagon. So if you tweet at me claiming I am stupid for wanting to get rid of Letang, I will not respond because it is clear you only read the title.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, is trading Letang something that could benefit the Penguins in the long run instead of just being a short term fix?

It’s hard to imagine a team without Kris Letang on it. He has been one of the key cogs of a core that has seemingly been together for the last ten years. But after back-to-back Stanley Cups, general manager Jim Rutherfordis looking for a shake-up to a team that is lacking that juice and burst that has been evident since the 2015-16′ season.

Letang was placed on injured reserve Thursday and will miss Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The injury is retroactive to 12/24 so he can come off of injured reserve Sunday against Detroit if he is ready. The Penguins likely placed him there to have an extra body on the roster for Friday.

Both Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman have reported that Rutherford has indeed “tested the waters” on a potential Letang trade and has gathered intel on what his market could be in such a situation.

Of course, while being on IR, Letang can not be moved. He’s had a bevy of health issues like neck surgery and a stroke among others. Teams likely would want to do some extensive searching on his health before paying the hefty cost for a defenseman of his caliber.

Could the Penguins benefit?

That question will seemingly be tough to answer. The return could likely net the Penguins a couple solid forwards to help fill out some depth issues currently presented by the team. The forward depth possessed over their last two title runs was the big reason they repeated as champions.

Defensively is where the team would be questionable. While Letang hasn’t played defense well at all this season, he still puts up a lot of points on the offensive end. Outside ofJustin Schultz and occasionally Olli Maatta, the Penguins don’t have a ton of offensive presence.

Schultz has proven far beyond capable that he can run the top powerplay as he has been assigned that duty at times due to Letang’s struggles. Schultz’s $5.5 million AAV is very mid-range for a defenseman of his caliber. If he becomes the lead guy on the blue line, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But he has had some rotten injury luck in his Penguins tenure. The team sorely misses him now and the current blueline is what things would look like if Letang was moved and Schultz was injured. It’s ugly.

Maatta is still only 23. He’s been the Penguins steadiest defenseman all year long. While he won’t account for a ton of offensive points, he can put the puck in the net as he scored 10 goals in his rookie season before injuries derailed the next few years of his career. To think he’s 23 is crazy and his game seems to be only evolving and likely will continue to for another 3-4 years before he hits his maximum.

Outside of that, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Jamie Oleksiak, Chad Ruhwedeland Matt Hunwick are the rest of the depth chart. If Letang is moved and everyone stays healthy, those are likely your seven NHL defensemen. It’s not a terrible core but with every injury, it looks worse and worse.

The Penguins need forward help. Moving Letang would get that. The Penguins have gotten decent contribution from Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong still awaits in the wings. Outside of that, they will continue to plug guys like Ryan Reaves into the lineup to the dismay of many.

The Penguins have also made it clear they’d like to trade Cole and if they are to move Letang and Cole, they would absolutely need a defenseman back to supplant that spot.

Letang would be a great get for any team because absolutely no one doubts his skill. But the reality is that the Penguins are a cap strapped team year in and year out so moving a $7.25 AAV contract that will have four more years remaining on it would be a nice bit of relief for the Penguins.

If they play their cards right, the Penguins could afford to move Letang if they so desire.

Is It Time To Panic Yet?

No.

It seems that most Penguins fans have already thrown in the towel. Many think the Penguins are already too far down in some sort of inevitable decline. I’ve seen countless tweets from fans saying that they are going to pay less attention to hockey because the Penguins aren’t good anymore, and are already out of cup contention.

The Stanley Cup isn’t won in November, and it certainly isn’t lost in November, (unless you’re the Coyotes).

At this time in the 2015-2016 season, anyone who was paying attention to hockey would have laughed at the thought that the Penguins would have been so dominant in the playoffs and won the Cup later that season. But they did.Sidney Crosby got out of his slump, they found above average goal-tending in a rookie, and many other things to make it to the Finals. All of this happened in February or later.

It’s November. Do you expect the Penguins to be in Playoff form already?Crosby just had one of the most successful 12 months a hockey player could possibly have so it’s okay if he doesn’t play like the best player in the league for a few weeks It‘s still early in the season. Steve Dangle summedit up perfectly about 1 minutes and 20 seconds into his latest LFR.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiBtJXNzcPg

“13 of those games have been on the road. So for those who have been chirpingSidney Crosby for having a slow start to the season. Buckle up because he’s about to ruin your life.” – https://twitter.com/Steve_Dangle

It’s not like the Penguins season has been bad so far, either. They are currently in a playoff spot for goodness sake and have a .500 win percentage. It’s not the end of the world like twitter seems to think.

Although, their play thus far is cause for concern, it seems to be turning around.

The Penguins played a great game against the Predators. Honestly, they didn’t deserve to come out of that game with only 1 point. They were getting shots on net, and were dominant for all but 5 or 10 minutes of that game. If the OT would have lasted a few minutes longer, (and the refs hadn’t called that nonsense tripping call) the Penguins would have undoubtedly put the puck behind Pekka Rinne.

The Penguins were in the Predators zone for pretty much all of the 5 minute 3on3 overtime. Backup goalie,Tristan Jarry, looked much better than his stat line shows in his 2 starts, both on back to back nights, and both needed more than 60 minutes to decide. It seems as if Jarry was the backup goalie the Penguins have been looking for.

Although their roster is starting to come together, I don’t think this is a Stanley Cup winning team, yet. General Manager Jim Rutherford knows it.

It was leaked that when it seemed that the 3-way Matt Duchene trade had fallen through, the Penguins made an offer. I don’t think that the Penguins are satisfied with their center depth even with the recent acquisition of Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see several decent sized deals benefiting center depth and/or defensive depth before the trade deadline in February

Now,Kris Letang has had a VERY slow start. He can’t seem to catch a break. Bad play after bad play, bad decision after bad decision, I could go on and on about him. He didn’t look as bad against the Predators as he had in previous games, but he still wasn’t great.

The great thing about elite players likeLetang is that they are, well, very good. He won’t stay in this slump forever. It may be a while, and it may take him being sat for a few games for him to get back on track. I don’t know how or when, but he will get out of this slump.

All in all, the Penguins haven’t looked like their normal back-to-back champion, offensive juggernaut selves recently. But that does not mean that the season is over for the Penguins, if anything, it’s just getting started.

What Is Wrong With Kris Letang? 

It’s no secret that Kristopher Letang has been…subpar in his first sixteen games of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kris Letang. I’ve defended him a lot over the years because he’s one of my favorite players, but his play recently has been nothing short of God awful.

Now when you look at the numbers they look fine really. 11 points in 16 games which is normal for a defenseman of his caliber. Then you see his plus/minus and it’s a whopping -16.

Basically Letang has been on the ice for a goal against every game. That’s not okay for defenseman of his caliber. We all know he’s better than this but let’s just take a moment to recap his last few games.

Against Vancouver, he was a -3 with no goals or assists. Against Calgary, he recorded an assist and was +1 due to himself. Against Edmonton, he recorded two assists and was even in a game where, really, it was not his most spectacular game of the season. Against Winnipeg, he was -3 with an assist on the lone goal in a 7-1 game. Up until they scored a useless powerplay goal, he was -4 on the night. Finally against Minnesota, Letang had an assist in a 2-1 loss but was -1 due to Mikko Koivu‘s redirect that gave us all a headache later that night.

My point is, I don’t know what is going on with Letang, (and I don’t mean to sound too obvious) but it needs to stop if this team is going to start winning hockey games. When your best defenseman is playing like garbage almost 90% of the time, it rubs off on your younger players, especially when you have a letter.

Through those last five games, Letang only has 2 PIM which I think is a positive, the sole positive in his play recently. His ice time has been the same old same old playing almost 25 minutes a game.

Hopefully he can end this streak of bad play Tuesday night against a struggling Arizona team. I think we all need this from him. No promises Clayton Keller won’t walk him like a dog. 

Penguins Physicality Not What You Might Think

On October 6, after a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan asked for more physicality from his players.

Physical play has been a point of contention for years in Pittsburgh as superstar veterans Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and especially Sidney Crosby have been the victims of some “liberties” dished out by opposing players who have little retribution to fear based on the Penguins roster.

Fans haven’t quite been satisfied with the contributions of protection players such as Tom Sestito, and the addition of Ryan Reaves for the 2017-18 season opens the conversation even wider. Although Reaves has been pretty good so far, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups in a row and counting with those types of players contributing minute bit parts on the journey.

So if that isn’t the kind of toughness the Penguins rely on, what kind of physicality is Sullivan asking for? Substituting the word “physicality” with the words “compete” and “body position” might give you the answer.

The game against Chicago really wasn’t that bad as far as the Penguins creating their own chances and having the puck. The Blackhawks just simply weren’t slowed down at all by any sort of physical contact. I don’t mean hitting. I mean body positioning.

Someone like Carl Hagelin seems lost so far. It’s because he’s not engaging. To create separation from an opponent, you first have to come together. That’s why in every foot race as a kid someone would always jokingly push off the person you’re racing against. It’s why basketball and soccer players post up, leaning into the opponent with their back. It helps you control where your opponent can move, and what your opponent can reach with the hands or stick.

It’s why football quarterbacks want their top receivers in one on one coverage so they can battle for position and control the defender. The quarterback always gets the credit for putting the ball “where only the receiver could get it”, but that magic spot the defender can’t reach is only created by the positioning and desire of the receiver to keep that defender away from that spot.

We always think of using your body and being physical on the defensive side of the puck. This tweet I put out a while ago is a great example of an NHL defenseman doing everything right with physicality, not in terms of hitting but just by pure compete and positioning:

But this kind of physicality is just as important on offense. Watch Partic Hornqvist‘s recent goal against the Florida Panthers:

One notable thing about Conor Sheary is how he reminds me of Crosby. It’s not his hands or his moves. It’s his strength. It’s how he keeps low and fends off anyone trying to get in his way. He craves the feeling of someone on him so he can win the battle and explode away. Crosby is famous for fending off players riding his back, using his body positioning and lower body strength to make even the best checkers look like they need to hit the gym. But if he didn’t engage in the physicality with them, he wouldn’t be able to use his strength to his advantage. What’s the point of being the strongest lower body player in the game if you never engage?

To demonstrate the point, here’s a video shot by John Moore of some Nova Scotian NHLers practicing in Halifax during the off season. James Sheppard, Zack Sill, Brad Marchand, and Crosby are all working on puck protection. Notice how little body checking there is. It’s just brute strength and intelligent body placement. The most important detail in this video is this: notice how not one single battle is won until one of these players pushes off the other and explodes away. Spoiler alert: it’s not the guy without the puck that does this in most cases. It’s the guy WITH the puck.

This is the physicality Mike Sullivan needs on both offense and “defense”.

Letang Rightfully Given “A”

This was a long time coming, and very well deserved. There was a vacant spot for one of the alternate captain roles on the Penguins squad, that has now been filled by Kris Letang, and I couldn’t be any happier for the guy. Big congratulations to him.

The longest tenured Penguins’ defenseman has faced some trial and tribulations along with much success through his entertaining career. There really wasn’t any better choice once an opportunity was raised after Chris Kunitz bolted to Tampa Bay. (Pun intended)

After coming up as a spring chicken under the tutelage of great Penguin defensemen such as Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar, Letang has developed into a top 5-10 defenseman in the league. He’s become a blanket of comfort to Pens fans everywhere when he is on the ice.

Other than defense, Letang has also fiercely manned offensive production from the blue-line. He’s grown as a leader through his example of play.

This honor should have came years ago. But besides the Kunitz change, the Penguins haven’t had a new captaincy since 2012. Sometimes you might be deserving but there’s just not enough room.

Some could say that about Letang’s snubs for the Norris Trophy.….

Among a great career both offensively and defensively along with 3 Stanley Cups and counting, Letang has also had troubling circumstances that he has persevered to overcome.

During the 08′ Cup Finals, one of Letang’s best friend tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident. Letting also suffered a stroke amidst the 2014 season and miraculously came back by the end of it. A rare health ailment for someone at his age.

If that wasn’t enough, Letang endured neck surgery mid way through this 2017 season to fix a herniated disc, costing him the rest of the season and sitting out during the teams Cup run on the way to back to back trophies.

Determined to get back on the ice, there are not many players mentally tougher than Kris Letang. In a proud moment, he returned to said ice just the other day, participating in a preseason game wearing that “A”.

Our guy is back.

When you look around the locker room it really became an easy choice. Many of the Pens roster are only 2-3 years in, so who does that leave? Phil Kessel or Patric Hornqvist? What about Ian Cole?

Both might be great choices but they have only been a Penguin going on 3 (Kessel) and 4 years (Hornqvist). Based on Letang’s longevity on the team plus his elite level of play, he’s the right guy.

For me stats aren’t as important, but since I brought it up anyway Letang is currently 2nd on the team list in goals, assists, and points by a defensemen. He will surely pass that if he continues to get healthy and play a few more seasons.

Letang will join teammate Evgeni Malkin as a fellow alternate captain who is along side Sidney Crosby as the team captain for this group’s stable.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always felt the alternate captain roles should have 1 forward and 1 defenseman.

All of Pittsburgh should be proud that Letang earned this chance for this letter to be worn on his sweater. No one on the team, or maybe in the league, is more deserving of a very high honor.