After this weekend, it’s easy to see just how invaluable Kris Letang
is to this Penguins squad.
It’s impressive enough for a defenseman to compile three goals and six points in
two games, which is exactly what Letang did. But it’s even more impressive when you factor in that Letang produced such offense while being tasked with shutting down the oppositions’ top players.
“I think he’s growing up a lot as a player,” fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek
said of the 24-year-old blueliner. “He’s playing a big role for us, playing against other teams’ top lines and still producing so many points offensively. It’s really impressive.”
The two-time All-Star defenseman shadowed Winnipeg’s leading goal scorer Evander Kane on Saturday, holding him pointless with just one shot on goal while putting together his first two-goal game of the season, adding an assist and finishing with a plus-3 rating in Pittsburgh’s 8-5 win.
On Sunday, Letang and defensive partner Brooks Orpik
were assigned to contain the NHL’s leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos and his line – and Letang helped do just that. Stamkos’ stat line was full of zeros and, like Kane, he had just one shot on goal while Letang scored three points (1G-2A) of his own in the Penguins’ 4-2 victory.
Letang says that focusing first and foremost on his defensive responsibilities is what allows him to contribute on the other end of the ice.
“When you defend well against these guys, these guys love to take chances,” Letang said. “They don’t really pay attention to their defensive part of the game. It’s easy for me to jump in the rush and try to bring some offense like that.”
But if you ask forward Chris Kunitz
, it’s also Letang’s incredible skating ability that paves the way for him to be the team’s best offensive defenseman.
“He can jump on the play, but also get back and have a great stick and not let those guys get the space to be able to make the shot,” Kunitz said. “It’s great to have him out there and playing well. It’s great to see.”
Sunday marked Letang’s 11th game back since missing 21 straight contests with a concussion. Before he went down, Letang played on the team’s top defensive pairing with Orpik and led the team in ice time on a regular basis.
He didn’t miss a beat upon his return, assuming his usual role right away. And while the points are starting to come for him, Letang says he isn’t doing anything different – his success is coming as a result of the team’s.
“I just think the team is playing well,” he said. “(Evgeni Malkin
)’s line is passing the puck really well. The power play is scoring at least a goal almost every night. Points come this way, but I think the most important part is the way we defend and the way Brooksy has been playing with me. It helps me a lot.”