With the star power of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out, it was up to guys like David Perron, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang to step up.
Letang recorded a career-high five assists, figuring in on every Pittsburgh goal, as the Penguins ended the Winnipeg Jets’ five-game winning streak with a 5-3 victory.
“We know we don’t have the skill that we usually carry with ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno,’ but guys played a strong game, a smart game,” Letang said. “We held the puck behind their D. That’s what we tried to exploit and we didn’t take any risky chances.”
But it looked as though at times Letang wasn’t even going to make it through the game.
Every time he moved, a Jet appeared out of nowhere to land a vicious hit on the defenseman.
“I got hit pretty hard. That’s what they’re getting told to do. They finish their checks on every guy out there,” Letang said. “(They’re) tough to play against.”
Letang received medical attention twice during the game. He was crushed with a hit from behind courtesy of Ben Chiarot. Prior to that a puck nailed his hand on a clearing attempt.
“I saw the play. I wasn’t sure and I tried to catch it anyway and it flipped my nail, (but) it was fine,” he said.
That can make things a little tough, especially for someone just returning from a concussion suffered a week ago. Fortunately for the Penguins, Letang was able to play through the pain, as he has done all season.
Despite the punishment, Letang finished the contest with a team-high 22:51 minutes of ice time. He was back in the saddle with fellow D-man Paul Martin, two players who excel in decision making and two-way play.
“Paul and Kris are a very good pair,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “When they’re a pair and you’re playing against top lines, they can defend as well as play offensively.”
What makes players like Letang so great is not only their grinder-ability, but also their grinder-mentality. A benefit playing on a team that opponents constantly try to shut down with physicality.
“Last time we played against them they banged us up pretty hard and they finished all their checking tonight again,” Letang said.
“That’s what you try to do, try to be physical on us and try and get us off our game but everybody stuck to it.”