Some nights, it seems like Kris Letang
just doesn’t leave the ice..
On the Penguins’ West Coast trip, the 24-year-old defenseman literally played over half the game in each of those two contests. He logged a career-high 33:56 minutes vs. San Jose on Nov. 3, then followed that performance by skating 32:33 minutes against Los Angeles on Nov. 5.
Through 13 games, Letang currently ranks fifth in the league in average time on ice with 27:01 minutes per game.
“He continues to show me late in games that his skating is still at the elite level that it is and I continue to play him,” said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who works primarily with the team’s defense. “He’s obviously off to a great start.”
And Letang is honored to be that player who can be counted on in any and all situations for his team, especially as they’ve been forced to deal with an onslaught of early-season injuries (including a combined 13 games missed from top-two defensemen Brooks Orpik
and Zbynek Michalek
“It’s rewarding. I think it’s an honor for me to see that coach has no problem sending me out in any situation on the ice,” Letang said. “He’s got the confidence I’m going to make the right play. I think overall I enjoy the situation that I’m in and I think I’m going to work to stay at that point.”
This summer, Letang took a different approach to his offseason training by focusing more on conditioning instead of building power and strength as he had in the past, saying then “I want to be able to skate for my whole shift. I want to be able to have quick feet, to be able to jump in the play and never get tired after a 30-second shift.”
He’s certainly been doing just that through the early part of this season. Letang explained that right now, he’s still feeling fresh and energized from a long summer. He believes that the repercussions of his offseason work will manifest as the season marches along.
“I think it’s going to show up later in the season if I’m consistent,” he said. “I just think right now, we’re early in the season. It’s going to be in the long run that we’ll see it.
“I think you just prepare yourself the same way every night. Obviously the conditioning between games is important and when you have a day off, you try to manage your body.”
Being able to maintain that high level of play every game is something he discussed with Reirden, who’s been impressed with the maturation of his young defenseman in the way he’s been able to make the most of his minutes.
Letang is currently on a four-game point streak, where he’s recorded five assists over that stretch, and his 13 points rank third (tied) among NHL defensemen.
“He’s done a nice job this year of maximizing his shifts, getting a lot of production and being very effective on his shifts at the same time,” Reirden said.
“That’s a large part of what he did this summer and then a large part of understanding and maturing as a player. I think maybe in the past years, he’s wasted energy trying to create offense in spots where there’s no offense to create. I think he’s maturing as a player and learning the times and understanding the game in terms of when to use his skating ability. If you were to say the one thing that allows him to play the minutes like that without the struggle, it’s his skating ability.”
If Letang keeps it up, maybe there will actually be some nights where he really doesn’t leave the ice.