Kovacevic: Keeping faith in Letang is simple (Source)
There’s nothing wrong with Kris Letang. Not much, anyway.
“My game? My game is fine,” he came back to my opening question Thursday. This was at his stall a few hours before the Penguins‘ 5-1 pinprick of the Sharks at Consol Energy Center and, candidly, the young man sounded as if he would need a shot of Novocaine to get through any talk about his performance to date.
“Yes, there’s less production. But my game right now is fine defensively. I’m watching a lot of video, every clip … and there’s nothing, really, I’d change.”
“Like I said, the defensive part is good. I don’t get beat one-on-one. My game is based on physical play down low, making it hard on the opposing team. Right now, that’s all fine.”
He paused, lowered his head and ruffled his right hand through that spaghetti mane as if searching for that missing part of his response.
“Maybe I’m less patient with the puck than I was before. … Maybe I am.”
Yeah, maybe he is.
It’s hard not to like Letang. It’s impossible not to respect him. He’s still the last man off the ice after every skate, every practice, even outlasting the latest arrivals from Wilkes-Barre. And while others drive home to nap between the skate and a game, he’ll hole up in assistant coach Todd Reirden’s office to consume more video.
But wow, no, Letang’s game has not been fine.
You don’t need detailed breakdown of all the breakdowns here. You don’t need a recanting of his 11 points through 21 games, his minus-3 rating, his 63 shots on goal compared to his 47 shots blocked or wide, his countless giveaways, his being embarrassingly lifted off the top power play. It’s all exposed nightly.
But if you want to understand it, well, go back up and reread those quotes.
It’s a great hockey irony that, as beautiful as it can be, any struggling team or individual will stress going ugly, like banking the puck off the glass, shooting from anywhere, etc. Not for Letang. He wasn’t born with simple DNA. When times get tough, he strives to compensate for all that’s gone wrong by making his next shift some magical mix of Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Rob Blake.
It’s brilliance or bust.
And therein lies the real rub: Letang is capable of brilliance. Ray Shero and the Penguins know that, or they wouldn’t have committed an eight-year, $58 million contract to No. 58 this past offseason. They’re expecting — and it’s fair — that he should contend for the Norris Trophy annually.
So how to swing that pendulum back away from bust?
It wasn’t pretty, but it counts for two points just the same.
The Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit and a sloppy start in a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory against the New York Islanders Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Captain Sidney Crosby, who scored two goals in the game, capped the win with a ferocious backcheck, stealing the puck in the neutral zone zone, and barreled his way toward the goal against three Islanders. Somehow he willed the puck into the goal.
“I got the puck around their blue line and was able to get some speed,” Crosby said. “I had a lot of time to wind it up. Their D were pretty flat footed because they had to gap-up. I had to get through there and get a shot off.”
“It was a highlight reel goal and we¹ll see it again I’m sure,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The work ethic, backcheck battle, wins the puck, it didn’t look like good odds at that point in time. He cut through the defense and that puck found a way.”
The Penguins fell behind 2-0 on two scores from Kyle Okposo in the first period after some ugly play by Pittsburgh.
“We gave up five three-on-twos in the first period to (John) Tavares, Okposo and (Thomas) Vanek. You’re giving up good opportunities to skill players. They made us pay,” Bylsma said. “They got ahead in this game and it took us 40 minutes to battle back and stay in the game.”
The Penguins rebounded with three unanswered goals, including two on the power play. James Neal also scored for the Penguins. [ Source ]
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made his NHL debut in the BB&T Center Oct. 11 against the Florida Panthers. In that game he surrendered six goals in a difficult contest as the Penguins fell 6-3 to the Panthers.
Zatkoff returned to Florida on Saturday night and exorcised the demons of that loss with a spectacular 39-save performance between the pipes to lead the Penguins to a 5-1 victory.
“You always want to play, especially against a team that put up six on you the last time,” Zatkoff said. “That wasn’t my best the first time around. To come back in and get that second opportunity was nice.
“Having a few games under your belt, I feel like I’m getting better every game and feeling more comfortable every game feeling the puck. It was nice to get second crack at these guys. I had a second crack at the (NY) Islanders and now one here.”
Zatkoff made several clutch stops in the first period against Aleksander Barkov and Marcel Goc to help snuff three Florida power plays. He finished the game strong as well with a pair of sick saves on Jimmy Hayes and Scott Gomez in the third period.
“I thought he was very good, came up big for us on numerous occasions, first period in particular,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “On three penalty kills he had three or four very good saves to keep that zero. Our best player tonight was Jeff Zatkoff.”
The Penguins goal scorers were Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale and Evgeni Malkin. [ Source ]
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has a history of bouncing back remarkably following tough outings.
On Wednesday night, Fleury was pulled in the first minute of the second period after misplaying a puck behind the net and surrendering his third goal against to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Two days later against Tampa Bay, Fleury continued his trend of rebounding. He made 21 saves to record his 26th career shutout and third this season in a 3-0 Pittsburgh blanking of the Lightning Friday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“You can’t really blame (Fleury) for Wednesday; we didn’t help him much,” Sidney Crosby said. “I’m sure he wanted to come in and bounce back. His record is really good after he’s been yanked. It shows what kind of player he is and his mental strength. He was our best player and a big reason why we won tonight.”
Fleury, who turned 29 years old yesterday, was particularly strong in the second period. He made a brilliant stop, getting his paddle down, on Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway after the Russian forward split the Penguins defense.
Fleury also got a toe on a shot from Alex Killorn and stoned J.T. Brown from the slot. Fleury made his most clutch stop on Richard Panik, who was alone in the slot, right as the second period buzzer sounded to end the frame.
“I just go one shot at a time and don’t think too far ahead,” Fleury said. “Sometimes you play well and they don’t get too much, and then they get a bad (goal). So I just try to be ready for it and go from there.”
Fleury also has a history of missing shutouts by one goal. However, he was able to secure the goose egg against the Lightning.
“I’ve had a lot of (one-goal games),” Fleury said. “It was nice.” >> Continue Reading <<
These are the two exceprts relating to Kris’ current playing from TribLive’s writer Rob Rossi. Excellent read (basically, it’s a MUST read for all fans).
By Rob Rossi Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 4:18 p.m.
Kris Letang is frustrated.
His primary source of dissatisfaction is an underwhelming offensive start — four goals and one assist in 16 games entering Wednesday night’s game against Toronto — and lingering discomfort in a right knee that was injured late in training camp.
Letang missed the Penguins’ opening nine games to rest and rehabilitate the knee, but soreness remains.
A Norris Trophy (top defenseman) finalist last season, Letang was the only defenseman to average a point per game.
He was not pleased with his removal from the Penguins’ top power-play unit last week. Defenseman Paul Martin replaced him.
Letang ranked 10th among NHL defensemen in power-play points (13) last season, but he hoped to improve upon that this season to add to his credentials for inclusion on Canada’s Olympic squad.
He had only three power-play points before the Penguins played the Maple Leafs.
Martin is out four to six weeks with a broken tibia, so Letang was to return to the top power-play unit against Toronto. He also was to be paired with Brooks Orpik, with whom he played throughout the 2010-11 season — the last time he had a regular defense partner.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has not said he is displeased with Letang.
“With the way the league is right now, he still is (playing against) good players and big minutes and defensive situations,” Bylsma said.
Letang had averaged 24 minutes, 42 seconds of ice time. Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who won the Norris last season, averaged only eight more seconds than Letang.
However, Letang feels he has carried the puck less this season. The Penguins have switched to a neutral-zone defensive system that placed three players, usually two defensemen, behind the puck at all times.
Though he has played the past eight games with rookie Olli Maatta, Letang is miffed that his lack of a consistent partner often goes overlooked regarding public criticism that has irked him dating to the end of last season.
He has played in only four periods with Rob Scuderi (broken ankle). Scuderi was signed in July specifically to play alongside Letang.
A lot will be made about Kris Letang between now and when the Penguins next play at home.
Too much, probably.
Certainly, too much about what has him frustrated – particularly the part about him paying attention to public criticism of his performances dating to last postseason.
So, the problem people have is that he cares what they think?
Letang has proven himself many things in our seven seasons together.
Mostly, he has proven himself a deeply introspective person, somebody that cares deeply what people think of him and about his place within the organization and sport he loves.
The promise of big money – like the $58 million guaranteed to him starting next season – will not change this about Letang.
It should not change this about Letang.
His want to play on the power play and perform is not selfish. He desires to represent his country at the Olympics, and at 26 this may prove his last great chance. Racking power-play points could give him an edge on competition that is a deep corps of defensemen for Canada.
His want to carry the puck is not misguided. Few players at his position, perhaps only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, can match Letang’s ability to dictate offensively. The puck is better served on his stick blade.
His want to be recognized as the Penguins’ top defenseman is not unreasonable. Money only means so much. The respect of coaches and management can mean more to a player that is set financially for generations.
Letang is unfairly labeled a lot of ways within the media and by fans.
Criticize his performance, not his thoughts.
And remember when doing that that his biggest crime is that he cares.
Kris updated his Twitter profile photo, looks to be a recent photoshoot outtake. I’ll try to find out more information about it, if it was for a special magazine or publication.
This photo was taken on November 23, the caption reads: “Merci beaucoup
@Lacoste pour le shopping .. Tres bon service et Merveilleuse boutique.”
FAST START, NO RESULTS
The Penguins have been the victim of some odd circumstances so far this season. During the month of November, Pittsburgh has had some of its best starts to games, outchancing and outshooting nearly every opponent. But often in those games, Pittsburgh has been stymied by a hot goaltender and end up on the wrong end of the scoring.
Monday night against Boston was no different. The Penguins had a 10-1 shot lead through the opening 8:30 minutes of the contest. However, the Penguins would not register another shot for the rest of the frame and were trailing 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes.
“The first 10 minutes we had those opportunities,” Bylsma said. “I like we way we played when we came out. We had opportunities, but at the end of the period we give them two goals to get up 2-0.”
“To be down 2-0 after the start we had was tough, but we stuck with it,” Crosby said. “The start was tough. We outplayed them, they got a couple chances and scored. If we score at least one there, maybe it’s a different outcome.” >> Continue Reading <<
The Montreal Canadiens scored two early third period goals to stake a 3-0 lead on the Penguins. Pittsburgh answered with two goals from James Neal, but their comeback attempt fell
short and the Habs held on for a 3-2 win at Bell Centre Saturday night.
Max Pacioretty scored two goals for Montreal. Tomas Plekanec added the third Montreal goal while goaltender Carey Price made 29 saves.
Plekanec scored Montreal’s second goal just 1:05 into the third period with the teams playing 4-on-4 hockey. Pacioretty notched his second at the 2:25 mark to make it 3-0 and the Penguins never recovered.
“Unfortunately they got the 4-on-4 goal to start the third period,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Then Max got them ahead by three. We had to fight for 16 minutes to try and get back.”
“You’re in a 1-0 game and it could go either way,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We had our chances to score. We just couldn’t get them to go in. They got a couple quick ones on us and definitely changed the game. We stuck with it and got a few late. Unfortunately, we just didn’t come out on top.” >> Continue Reading <<