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playoffs

Penguins' Letang showing no signs of slowing down

Pittsburgh defenseman flourishing playing big minutes

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- It was a day after a win and a day before another game, so coach Mike Sullivan gave the Pittsburgh Penguins players the opportunity to make their own decision; skate or stay off the ice.

All but one of the 19 Penguins' players who played in Game 2 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday chose to stay off the ice. The one who skated was defenseman Kris Letang, who had the best excuse of any of them to keep his equipment hanging in his dressing room stall Sunday.

Letang played a game-high and season-high for a Penguins player (35:22) in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win Saturday. He also played 34:02 in Game 1, meaning he has been on the ice for 69:24 of the 129:33 the Capitals and Penguins have played through two games in this best-of-7 series, which is tied at 1-1 heading into Game 3 at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We thought he needed a little bit more work," Penguins center Nick Bonino joked of Letang.

In all seriousness, that's kind of how Letang felt. He skated because it's part of his day-after recovery routine, but also because he knew there weren't going to be a lot of players on the ice with him so he could spend time working on individual aspects of his game.

The other players on the ice were defensemen Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot, forwards Oscar Sundqvist and Beau Bennett, and goalies Jeff Zatkoff and Marc-Andre Fleury. Letang lasted longer than Bennett and the goalies.

"I have more time, more reps that I can go through," said Letang, who admitted he probably won't skate Monday morning. "Certain guys need a little more time off the ice, and some guys get reenergized by skating out there and burning a little bit of calories."

Video: Kris Letang speaks with media following practice

Letang is clearly one of those guys, which makes him a rare breed in the NHL. Even Duncan Keith, who played major minutes for the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, would take his option when he was given the choice not to skate.

Skating in an optional practice is normal for Letang.

"A big part of the summer for me is the conditioning," Letang said. "I want to increase it during the summer and I want to increase it during the season so I am ready for that time of year when I need to increase the workload."

Letang compared playing a lot of minutes in a game to his offseason conditioning.

"You build," he said. "It's like training in the summer, you want to get stronger and have better conditioning so you increase your workload every time. I kind of see it like that in the game, too. If you play more your body is going to get used to it."

Letang was fourth in the League in time on ice per game in the regular season (26:56). He entered play Sunday eighth in total minutes played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 205:52 in seven games (29:24 per game). The seven players in front of him had all played in one more game.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Holtby denies Letang, Hornqvist

St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the leader in ice time, had played 33:38 more than Letang. Shockingly, that's less than the equivalent of one game against the Capitals for Letang.

"Some games you play 12 minutes and you feel like you've played 25," Bonino said. "So I know a few guys were joking that he played three games worth of hockey for some of us [Saturday] night. Hats off to him. He's playing at a really high level now and that's what we need."

These aren't easy minutes either. The Capitals have tried to hit Letang every time he goes back to retrieve the puck. He's taken a bit of a beating, and even got punched in the face by Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik in the third period of Game 2.

He's persevering and has been the Penguins most effective defenseman.

Letang has an assist, a plus-2 rating, 10 shots on goal, 19 total shot attempts, 10 hits and eight blocked shots in the series. Despite the minutes, he is tied for the team lead with a plus-15 even-strength shot-attempt differential (SAT) against Washington, according to war-on-ice.com.

"He's a very efficient player," Sullivan said. "He's a great skater. I think he's an elite defenseman. I don't think Kris gets the credit he deserves for the type of defenseman that he is and the importance that he has to our team and helping this team win.

"He does so much for our team to help us play the game we're trying to play."

Letang knows he might have to reel it in a bit if the Penguins go on an extended playoff run. Sullivan has even talked to him about getting enough rest and recovery time, but he's not going to mess with what is obviously working for Pittsburgh's best defensemen.

"Kris has a routine that he likes for him," Sullivan said. "He's comfortable with a certain routine that he's in right now and we're certainly not going to disrupt that."

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