PITTSBURGH -- Defenseman Kris Letang was taken to the hospital after leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes with an injury Saturday.
Coyotes forward Shane Doan shoved Letang near the end boards, causing Letang to fall backward. He landed on his back, which resulted in his head snapping backward and seemingly hitting the boards with 4:45 remaining in the second period.
Letang remained seated on the ice, with his back against the boards, for several minutes while being treated by trainers. Penguins forward Steve Downie and defenseman Rob Scuderi helped Letang to the runway, where he struggled to walk toward the Pittsburgh locker room.
"When it happened, I could tell that when he went into the boards, it was awkward," Doan said. "He's so good. We talk about it. You can't let him jump by you and I just went to make sure I got a piece of him so he couldn't jump by me and obviously, he went into the boards awkward. We have to finish our checks on him. I hit him just to stop him from jumping by and you never ever want to see anyone like that, especially a guy with his caliber and everything he's went through in the past couple years, you never want to see that.
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 54
SOG: 197 | +/-: 12
"So you feel awful as a player when something like that happens."
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Letang was taken to a hospital to be evaluated. Pittsburgh expects to learn more on his condition Sunday morning.
Downie later fought Doan in retaliation. Doan complimented Downie’s willingness to defend Letang, calling him a "character player," and Downie shared similar sentiments for Doan.
"He’s a hard player. He’s going to finish his hits," Downie said. "It was unfortunate the way [Letang] fell, but I have nothing but respect for Doan. He did the right thing. That’s hockey right there."
Letang rebounded from possibly his most frustrating season with potentially his most productive. After being named a Norris Trophy finalist after the 2012-13 season, Letang struggled through various injuries, including a stroke suffered at the end of January 2014, causing him to miss 45 games. The 27-year-old scored 22 points in 37 games after scoring 38 in two fewer games the season prior.
This season, Letang has played 69 games and is third among NHL defensemen with 54 points, five behind Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and is considered among the favorites to win the Norris Trophy. His absence could be detrimental to the Penguins, whose offense has gone dormant while experiencing injuries to several key offensive pieces.
"We feel that we have some young, talented defensemen who will come and fill a spot and hopefully as a group of six, we can collectively try to make up for some of the things that Kris Letang does," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
Forwards Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, two of Pittsburgh’s top three goal-scorers, returned against Arizona after missing six and five games, respectively. Without Malkin and Hornqvist, the Penguins scored more than two goals once since a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 14.
Letang is third on the Penguins in scoring, trailing Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 78 points, and Malkin. With Christian Ehrhoff already absent because of an upper-body injury, Pittsburgh could be without arguably its two best offensive defensemen for an extended period.
"It doesn’t matter who you play for, or what you’re watching, you never want to see something like that," Scuderi said. "It was a direct blow into the boards, so we’re hoping he turns out fine. It’s a lot of minutes. [Letang] is a part of everything we do. Even strength, penalty kill, power play. So you’re not going to fill it with one guy because he’s a unique player, but you have to fill it as a collective."