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Letang Plays Crucial Role in 3-on-3 Overtime

by Mark Madden / 105.9 the X

The Penguins were 2-4 in overtime this season, 5-9 in OT the prior campaign heading into Monday's game vs. Calgary at PPG Paints Arena. The five extra minutes haven't necessarily served the Penguins well lately.

But the Pens were bolstered by defenseman Kris Letang's return from injured reserve. Letang is one of the team's better 3-on-3 players, maybe the best.

Letang did little spectacular Monday. But when a long spell of possession by the Flames forced Letang to stay on the ice for the first 100 seconds of OT, he persevered. Letang stayed close to an opponent, rode out the storm and got off the ice.

Ultimately, Jake Guentzel got on the ice. His goal 4:04 into overtime gave the Penguins a 3-2 victory.

Three-on-three OT is a hockey odyssey.

You play man-to-man defense, which you never do 5-on-5. You change while you have clear-cut possession, which you rarely do 5-on-5. You've got to stay ahead of the opposition's changes and catch your foe tired. You've got to win face-offs and keep possession.

Letang has OT figured better than most. He has the skating, skills and endurance to make it work.

"Obviously, it's a possession game," Letang said. "You try to tire the other team out while they're chasing you.

"When there are only three guys out there, you have to stick to your man. A lot of times it's guys beating their man 1-on-1. From there, they're going to create scoring chances. So if we play man-to-man and win 1-on-1 battles, we're going to be better."

Letang smiled when he talked about his 100-second shift to start overtime: "I just stuck to one guy. I wasn't going to leave a man open. I just kept with my man."

Forward Jared McCann welcomed Letang back, especially for 3-on-3 duty.

"He's got that deception," McCann said. "He can slow it down or speed it up really quick. He puts the other team on their heels [in OT]."

Guentzel is a valuable weapon in overtime and in regulation. His OT goal against Calgary was aided when Dominik Kahun bought time for a change by briefly and effectively stickhandling. Guentzel charged onto the ice and quickly netted.

"Dom made a nice play letting us change and getting me out there," Guentzel said. "He made a nice pass to me, and I tried to use the defenseman as a screen."

Guentzel's thoughts about OT play mostly echoed Letang's.

"We've got to stick to defense first," Guentzel said. "We know that chances will come that way. Hopefully, this is a good start and we'll get some more wins in OT. But you've got to stay man-to-man. You can't lose your guy."

But it does happen: Goalie Tristan Jarry stopped Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau on a breakaway not long before Guentzel tallied.

Letang doesn't take face-offs. But he acknowledged how crucial they are in overtime.

"They're huge," Letang said. "When you win face-offs, you create chances - like I got a pretty good chance early in overtime. Face-offs are huge, and so is when you get a change. At the end, we got fresh guys on the ice when they were tired."

Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Brandon Tanev have scored overtime goals for the Penguins this season.

Coach Mike Sullivan praised Letang's OT acumen: "In overtime, he's one of our most important players. Not only does he skate well, he's got good offensive instincts and he defends hard. Whenever he gets caught on the ice, he can continue to play. It seems like his energy tank is endless when it comes to those situations."

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

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