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Letang finds success by simplifying his game

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

For defenseman Kris Letang, less equals more.

As in, less velocity equals more shots on goal.

Letang leads the Penguins in shots on goal with 87. That's rarefied air on a team that includes offensive juggernauts like Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin.

Letang credits assistant coach Sergei Gonchar for showing him how to get more rubber on net. Few did that better than Gonchar, a former defenseman and a Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins in 2009.

"Me and Gonch work on different angles of shooting, trying to create a shot," Letang said, "and I'm taking a little bit off my shots to try to put them on net. It's so tight in the [offensive] zone, you have to create by throwing the puck where nobody is going to know where it's going to go after."

That said, Letang allows, "I won't [pass up] a chance to blast it."

That was in evidence when the Pens beat the New York Islanders 6-2 at PPG Paints Arena Dec. 6. Letang scored two first-period goals to stake the Penguins to a 2-1 lead at the first intermission. He finished the game with six shots on goal and a mark of plus-2.

Letang's pair of tallies left him with 12 points in his previous 11 games.

He would have liked 13. He would have liked a hat trick.

Letang's last hat trick was in "juniors. I've had a couple two-goal games in the NHL. So I was close," Letang said. "But it was in juniors, the last one.

"Everybody was trying to get it to me. I was thinking about [the hat trick]. But Phil and Sid were trying to get me the puck as much as they could, so...maybe some other time."

Besides his work with Gonchar, Letang credited his hefty shot total to "probably a different mindset. Sometimes I have a chance to play with Sid or Geno, that kind of guys, and I tried to get them the puck as much as I could. Now I'm trying to shoot the puck more, and create offense that way."

Letang knows he needs to be careful, though: "I can't force it. Sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not. I take what they give me."

Letang doesn't think anything in particular spurred his current burst of production.

"It's pretty balanced across the board for me throughout the year," Letang said. "I think I had a great start. Now, there's nothing special. I'm just trying to play my game."

Letang, 31, had seven goals and 17 assists in his first 26 games this season. His 24 points placed him seventh among NHL defensemen. The Montreal native was plus-5.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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