Tag Archives: Kris Letang

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

Offseason Player Grades: Kris Letang

Regular Season Statistics

GP: 41, G: 5, A: 29, P: 34, +/-: 2

Playoff Statistics

None, Missed ya Tanger!

Player Grade (B)

If Kris Letang would have played a whole season and maybe racked up some more points, we probably could move him up to an ‘A’. Honestly a lot of people see him as an offensive defenseman, but in the 41 games played he only had 5 goals.

Review

Letang is the number one guy you think of when it comes to the Penguins defense. He is the backbone of those guys, and when he had his surgery nothing changed in the defensive core expect obviously the D-Line pairings. His numbers for the 41 games played aren’t terrible at all. Could they improve? Yes I truly believe they will with time to come and him returning from injury. 

Preview

Next season, I see Letang coming back to the role he has from season to season. He’s the leader of the Pens defense and their top guy. Watch for Letang to find more points next year, hopefully no injuries occur on his part. Keep an eye on the the defenseman point chart because we probably will see Letang up there most of the year. 

Conclusion

Letang is obviously one of the most beloved Penguins, as we saw the love shown to him by most fans at the victory parade. This neck surgery was just a little set back for him this season but next season wait until (hopefully around this time) next year to see that player grade rise to an ‘A’ because of the bright future and season to come from Kris Letang. 

COLUMN: Sit Back, Relax, And Enjoy

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are tied at two games a piece heading into game five of the best of seven series. And yet, people are still unsatisfied.

Walk around downtown and you hear the murmurs of negativity. Talk to your co-worker and it’s likely they want off with Matt Murray‘s head. Heck, call your family members and I’m sure panic has begun to set in amongst the household.

The Penguins first won the Stanley Cup back in 1991 and then did it again in 92’. They won in 2009 and again last season. They lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. 1991 was exactly 26 years ago. The Penguins have been to six Stanley Cups in that time frame. They have participated in 23% of the Stanley Cup Finals since 1991. Only the Detroit Red Wings have appeared in as many the Penguins.

That’s an important thing to ponder when you look at how successful the Penguins as a franchise have been. So how does that in any way, shape, or form affect the 2016-17′ Penguins? Ask Mike Sullivan.

Calm, cool, collected. Three very good adjectives to describe one of the best things to happen to the Penguins since Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The Penguins have yet to lose a playoff series under Sullivan and have faced this much adversity on many occasions.

As one of my friends today put it: “This might be the best era of Penguins hockey we’ve ever seen”.

He isn’t referring to the 26 years that have elapsed since the Penguins first championship. He’s speaking on behalf of what the next 3-5 years could potentially hold.

The Penguins are back in the same Stanley Cup Finals that they won last season and took an early two game lead after the first two games played at PPG Paints Arena. They’re the first team to participate in back to back Stanley Cups since…themselves and Detroit. The Blackhawks 3-in-6 “dynasty” that we talk about could easily be topped by this team. Don’t count it out. They’ve got a chance to be 2-in-2.

And what’s this goalie debate you speak of? Who really cares if we are being honest. This is the best goalie tandem that the Penguins have ever had and will ever have. Unfortunately, the salary cap and the expansion draft will likely force the Penguins to have to break up this tandem.

In his darkest of days, no one has been more supportive of Marc-Andre Fleury than Murray. Fleury spent all of last season’s playoffs, sans the loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding the bench after returning from his concussion. He played these playoffs until a 4 goals on 9 shots performance in game three of this season’s Eastern Conference Finals got him yanked from the crease.

Murray, who began this season on the injured reserve, has been stellar this postseason outside of his game four performance that has the Murray/Fleury debate rearing its ugly head.

Just let it be. Instead of beig opposed to one of these outstanding goalies, appreciate the fact that it’s very likely that the Penguins don’t make it to this point had Jim Rutherford shipped away Fleury amidst the trade deadline rumors.

It seems as though the Penguins finally will have to get rid of part of the “core four” when Fleury likely parts ways this offseason. That era has brought its ups and downs. Can you even fathom what this era will do?

Not only will Crosby, Malkin, and Letang rest assuredly be in a Penguins uniform next season, add the likes of Jake Guentzel for a full season. Even further down that 3-5 year path, talented prospects like Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese will be showcasing their NHL talents.

I could name plenty of young guys who we’ve watched over the past two postseasons do magical things for the Penguins. They’ve never had this much speed or balance or depth or any part of the magical formula that wins teams hockey games this day in age.

If the Penguins can win game five and take a 3-2 stronghold on the series, can they win one of the final two and take home Lord Stanley.

That would mean that with all the talent they’ve got, they’d have four years to match or even better the “3-in-6” standard set by Chicago. They’ll have better stars and a better goalie than Chicago did to do the trick.

Seriously, quit worrying about the little things with this team. They’ve done nothing but prove you wrong, anyway. Relax, grab a pepsi or coke, watch this team play their way one game closer to that final victory to win them a second consecutive Stanley Cup Finals.

How The Pens Can Bounce Back In Game 4

With Sidney Crosby out of the lineup for at least Game 4, who needs to step up in his absence? How about…no one.

No one needs to do anything differently. The Pens have players in and out of the lineup all the time. They play four lines and everyone is expected to contribute.

Not even Evgeni Malkin needs to adjust. He’s already a leader. He’s already a big moment guy. He already leads the NHL in playoff scoring. How can we expect him to do any more?

No. What everyone has to do is just play the way they always have. Look at the group on defense.

Kris Letang has been out for the entire playoffs and the back line is doing just fine. Have you noticed a single guy trying to outdo anyone and be the hero? No. They want to be known as the Pittsburgh Penguins defense group. Not player X and player Y.

The forwards will be wise to do the same. They all play for the crest on the front, not the name on the back. That’s a cliche for a reason. Now, everyone is going to be playing for the “C” in the press box.

But they’ll do so as a team like they always have, because that’s what winners do.

This Penguins Team is Much, Much Different

The second-most difficult task in professional sports is winning a championship.

There’s many difficult layers and aspects to winning the highly desired prize, and many professional sports franchises are never able to call themselves the cream of the crop, or simply, the best of the world. While many will believe that winning a championship is the most daunting and difficult task for a club to achieve, many underestimate that there is something even more difficult for a team to accomplish: winning multiple championships.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year, we all know this. I don’t need to say anymore about that. What I can say, however, is how this team is different. Yes, I understand that the turnover isn’t much different than last years team. As a matter of fact, Ben Lovejoy, Beau Bennett, and Eric Fehr are the only three that have departed since then. Regardless of personnel, this team is still different.

The “HBK” line is almost non-existent. During last years playoff run, the trio of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel was the most dominant line of the playoffs. This year, the line struggled to play like their former selves. Bonino has seen his play elevate in the past month, but Kessel isn’t performing like he should. Kessel, who dominated last year’s playoffs with 10 goals and 22 points in 24 games. This year, Kessel has managed to score 22 goals and 67 points in 79 games which is fair, but he has struggled as of late to put the puck in the back of the net.

Hagelin has been out of commission due to an injury and may not even see play in the first round against Columbus. Taking the role as the speedy left winger, Bryan Rust has slotted next to Bonino and Kessel and this new line has been playing decent hockey. Hagelin, when he returns, will most likely play with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist.

Kris Letang will miss the entire playoffs. Ouch. The undisputed best defenseman on the Penguins roster, and arguably the team’s most important player, will not be able to assist the injury-riddled Penguins win another Stanley Cup. Many have argued that the Penguins would not have won the Stanley Cup last year without Letang. Losing Letang was tough, there’s no doubt about it. Without Letang, it is going to be very difficult to win the Stanley Cup.

On the other side, this team is very different from last year (in a positive way). Jake Guentzel surprised everyone and showed how deep the Penguins prospect pool really is. Guentzel has scored 15 goals this season and has helped form one of the best lines in hockey. Did I mention that Guentzel, who was playing College hockey last year, plays next to Sidney Crosby? Who would’ve thought a college player could play on a wing with Sidney Crosby?

Even worse, who would’ve thought that both of Crosby’s wingers were college players. Conor Sheary is slowly turning into an elite player. He has developed and progressed remarkably last year, and this is a player who scored two goals in the Stanley Cup Finals. With 23 goals this year, Sheary has defied the odds and has turned out to be a true gem for the Penguins.

“Sid and the Kids” is this years “HBK.” The team has needed a line to be hot and they got one. If the Penguins hope to win the cup again, “Sid and the Kids” is going to have to guide them there.

As I mentioned before, Letang isn’t going to play in the playoffs. While the loss is devastating, there is somebody that could possibly take his place. Justin Schultz has been tremendous for the Penguins this season. Absolutely tremendous. Who would’ve thought this guy was only traded for a third round pick? I’m not going to talk too much about Schultz as there’s a future story coming up.

The Penguins also added veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit at the trade deadline, and with Letang now out of commission, these trades are even more valuable now. Chad Ruhwedel has played fairly well for the Penguins, and if another injury occurs, Ruhwedel may very well make the playoff roster.

The Penguins final regular season game and first playoff games may have very different rosters. The games are only a few days apart, but the impact of the two are substantially different. If the Penguins have home ice in the first round by Game 82, I would expect several players to be sitting the game out. Olli Maatta, Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Hagelin, and Tom Sestito are all currently out with injury. I’m expecting Maatta and Malkin to be ready to go by Game 1, but Kunitz and Hagelin may be out a little bit longer (I doubt Sestito sees playoff time).

Regardless of the team’s low turnover rate, this team is much different than last years. Injuries have plagued the team, some younger players have stepped up, and line combinations have been changed. This team is a great team, one of the best in Penguins history. What the deciding factor on how great this team will be, however, is if they’re able to win the Stanley Cup again. Winning a sports championship is hard. Winning a championship again is harder. If this team can win again, they may just be the best in team history.

Does The Letang Injury Ruin The Pens Chances?

After the news came out that Letang is going to miss the rest of the season, panic starts to set in. Or does it? This is the optimistic take and pessimistic look into this injury.

Pessimistic 

Letang is a huge part of not only the defense but the offense as well. He is a great powerplay shot and adds a shut down defender on the backend. With him out the Penguins no longer have that. They no longer have a top defenseman but just normal guys trying to share the workload. With this injury it might be the straw that broke the camels back. Expect the Penguins to be early round exits unless someone on the defense (Schultz) takes his place and excels.

Optimistic

Yes Letang is out but he has been out for a while. But let’s not forget all the depth and defenseman we have on the backend to sure up the blueline. With these defenseman the Pens can distribute the workload evenly. The Daley/Maata pairing was playing well before they got injured and Streit and Hainsey have been good since acquiring them. If the team can keep playing well like they have the past few games I don’t see how they couldn’t move at least deep into the playoffs or get another ring. Letang is a big loss but with the depth on the defense, I’m not worried. Plus it doesn’t matter how good your defense plays if your goalie isn’t on the top of his game. Murray has been starting to heat up going into the playoffs so expect another great performance from him. So no Letang doesn’t ruin the pens hopes for their 5th Stanley Cup but it does cause for others to step up both on defense, goaltending, and the forwards.

Will Injuries Hamper The Pens’ Chances?

The Penguins are again bitten by the injury bug.

It seems year after year the Penguins must overcome these injuries. But it’s even worse this year after stars like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have been out longer term.

Now with depth almost not there, how do the Pens overcome the injuries? Well that’s the question to be answered. The Penguins can also be lucking out with this amount of injuries, which could catapult them to back to back championships. And here’s how.

All of the current injuries are expected to be healed up by playoff time. With Letang and Malkin well rested, they could energize the team. Also if the Sid and the Kids line come back where they left off then they’ll be the most dangerous line in the league.

With Nick Bonino heating up as we head down the stretch and Carl Hagelin coming back before playoffs then the HBK line shall be excellent again.

The bottom line is still playing well even though they’re injured.

Cullen has been playing very well and some could argue better than he did last year.

This team is going to be an offensive powerhouse when the injuries are all healed. And I don’t believe they’ll be rusty when they return but rather rested.

The defense on the other hand will be getting Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, and Letang back, which they’ll be well rested and ready to go. With these key defenseman coming back, they’ll add great depth and much needed help on the powerplay. 

As you can see the Pens aren’t in that much trouble when it comes to the playoffs. They’re adding experience to the young players from the Baby Pens. But when the playoffs come around they’ll be rested and ready for another title run. So all of these injuries could just be a great thing for the team.