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Letang says pause could close gaps for Penguins, NHL

'Everybody is going to be on the same level' after return to play

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

Kris Letang said he doesn't know what to expect if the NHL regular season resumes. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman has been unable to skate since the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. With other players in a similar situation, Letang said it could lead to an equaling effect across the NHL. 

"I think everybody is going to be on the same level," Letang said Tuesday. "It's going to be hard, but at least you won't see differences between teams because everybody's in the same boat." 

But that might not be a positive for every team, Letang said. 

"The further it drags, obviously, it's tough for teams that were playing so well, had so much momentum or would be in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs to kind of keep going because you had such a long break," Letang said. 

The Penguins (40-23-6) lost six straight games in regulation from Feb. 20-29 but won three of their five games in March. They are third in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the Washington Capitals and three behind the Philadelphia Flyers. 

On March 31, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said he thought the Penguins showed signs of returning to form in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on March 10. Two days later, the Penguins were preparing to play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena when the NHL paused the season.

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Letang, who leads Pittsburgh defensemen with 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 61 games, had been following news of the virus for some time before traveling to Columbus. During a California road trip from Feb. 26-29, he said he began washing his hands more frequently and keeping distance from others more than he otherwise would. 

After last playing more than a month ago, Letang said he is unsure how the season should resume. In a March 26 videoconference arranged by the NHL, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he would welcome returning with the playoffs. 

There isn't a clear answer, Letang said, because it's uncertain how long the pause could last. In the meantime, the three-time Stanley Cup champion is using this as his offseason. 

"Right now, you have to treat this period as your rest," Letang said. "That's the way I like to see it, it's like it's my summer break right now. I try to build my body, make sure when I come back that I'm fully rested. That's kind of my approach right now. ... I know everything is going to be condensed at the end of this quarantine or self-isolation. Once we get started, it's going to be really condensed, so I'm thinking about taking my break right now." 

It's not the same as training under normal circumstances. Early in a typical offseason, Letang said he usually skates once or twice a week. This is the first time that he has come to a complete stop for an extended period, he said. 

"What's hard is we don't have access to gyms or even if you had a place to skate, you don't have access to those things," the 32-year-old said. "So you're left with whatever you have at your house or whatever you can do outdoors. … It might take three weeks of playing and practicing to get back to speed. 

"It's probably going to be tough the first few practices, but we're going to miss it so much, you would have been in your house for so long that you just want to get out. It's what we love to do, so it's going to be great to be back out there." 

Letang said he looks forward to hockey returning, but it isn't his sole focus. 

"The health of people, it's so much more important," he said. "So it actually puts everything in perspective. I kind of blocked the will of playing hockey right now and just try to worry about what people are actually going through, what the real difficulties are. Right now, I try to enjoy things I normally don't, like [time with] my family. I just hope everybody's safe."  

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