It took Penguins defenseman Kris Letang
114 games to record his first career two-goal games. It took him five games to record his second career two-goal game.
Letang notched two scores Friday night in Pittsburgh 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Mellon Arena just nine days after scoring two against the New York Rangers Jan. 28.
Letang accredited his hot scoring streak to his growing confidence as a player.
“Maybe I’m more confident with myself,” Letang said. “Every year and every game I’m going to try to get better and better. That’s what I try to do and right now my confidence may be higher than it was last year.”
Letang, who has been gun shy about shooting the puck at times this season, has been getting a lot of chances lately. Penguins head coach Michel Therrien doesn’t necessarily think Letang is shooting more recently. His take?
“He’s hitting the net more,” Therrien said. “There was a lot of times earlier in the season that he was missing the net. His confidence is there obviously and he scored two nice goals. But you don’t want him to play too offensively. We want to make sure he’s playing really well. He has an important role. We gave him a role that he’s harnessed. He’s killing penalties and he’s playing against good players and he’s getting more comfortable offensively. It’s a great sign for a young player.”
Letang is in his second full NHL season and is still only 21 years old. He still has a lot of room to grow and improve but he’s come a long way in his short career, including physically.
“I took two months to work really hard with my trainer,” he said. “We worked on different aspects of my skating and to be a powerful skater and always be able to go on the rush and get back in time to make sure it’s not a two-on-one or a three-on-two. Maybe the confidence, the strength, and you get more experience every month and every year, so that’s the big difference.”
Letang was one goal shy of becoming the first Penguin defenseman to net a hat trick since Phil Bourque (Dec. 3 1990 at New York Rangers). Even though he wasn’t successful Friday night, he may one day hit that mark.
“I don’t know,” Letang said. “We’ll see.”<>
The Penguins were, in part, able to defeat the Blue Jackets thanks to a stellar performance between the pipes by Marc-Andre Fleury
. Pittsburgh’s 24-year-old netminder turned aside 33 shots to earn his 18th win of the season.
“Fleury made the key saves,” Therrien said. “You need key saves to keep the team confident and focused and definitely Marc-Andre made some key saves at the right time during that game.”
Fleury turned aside 15 shots in the first period to keep the game scoreless through 20 minutes of play, including a fantastic toe save on a Rick Nash wraparound attempt. The Penguins defense did a great job of clearing the crease and keeping the shots from the perimeter.
“I could see the puck,” Fleury said. “I just took the rebound away, and caught some shots, and passes. If I get shots from further out it’s always easier for me. ”
“He just came off a really really tough injury, especially for a goalie,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said of Fleury, who missed 13 games with an undisclosed injury. “I think as a player you can probably come back a little easier or disguise it a little bit more but with the way (Fleury) plays, he really relies on his flexibility and his quickness. So that was something that people might have overlooked when he first came back.”
With Fleury’s help, the Penguins have won the first two games of a four-game home stand. Pittsburgh has also won six of its last eight home games and things seem to be coming together for the team.
“It just seems to come around lately, we have some wins and I can’t put my finger on it,” Fleury said. “With wins, when you win and things go well, it just kind of builds up and you get more confident as you go.”
Now, Fleury will try to continue his recent string of superb performances down the stretch to help the Penguins earn a postseason berth. There’s at least one player in the locker room who believes Fleury can do it.
“I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t,” Orpik said. “I think going through that last year is only going to make him better, just like the rest of us. The way we play, we rely on him a lot. When he’s playing with confidence, it filters out to all of us in front of him. The psychological part of it is probably bigger than stopping the pucks.”<>
Next up for the Penguins in a matinee showdown with the Detroit Red Wings. It will be Detroit’s first trip to Mellon Arena since raising the Stanley Cup following Game 6 of the Finals.
“They’re a very good team and a great challenge for us,” Fleury said. “I think we have to focus on the way we play. We’ve been better lately and if we can play 60 minutes, we’ll be in good shape.”
Therrien agreed with Fleury’s assessment.
“For us it’s not about Detroit,” the coach said. “It’s going to be about us. We’re in a position that we’re fighting for our life, but that’s going to be a little extra special, like it was when we got there in Detroit during the season. We’re going to need some performance to beat the Red Wings but it’s not about them.”