New article from Canadian newspaper BrandonSun – Kris Letang
From Canadian news site Brandonsun.com – A great new article on Kris Letang how last year, he missed the playoffs due to injury, but this year he’s one of the toughest, best defenseman in the playoffs:
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The hit that kept Kris Letang from playing in the 2015 playoffs came about two weeks before the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the New York Rangers in the opening round.
Fading back in his own zone, Letang flipped a puck high into the neutral zone before he was shoved by Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan. He fell backwards in a sudden, violent motion and slammed his head into the end-boards.
Letang didn’t play another shift the rest of the season because of the concussion he suffered on the play, while the Penguins were dispatched in five games by the Rangers, their offensive attack blunted in four losses.
“Not fun,” Letang said of sitting out last spring, “obviously you want to be part of it.”
The 28-year-old Quebec native is not only healthy for the Penguins this time around, but playing perhaps as well as he ever has. A legitimate Norris Trophy candidate, Letang trailed only Senators captain Erik Karlsson and Sharks bearded force Brent Burns in posting a career-high 67 points in 71 games.
He did so while pushing a career-best 27 minutes per night.
Coach Mike Sullivan believes he’s vastly underrated, not a recognized as those likes of Karlsson and the Kings’ Drew Doughty.
“I honestly think that he doesn’t get the recognition in the hockey world that he deserves,” Sullivan said last month after Letang played a career-high 35:14 against Buffalo.
“I think he’s that good. He’s an elite defenceman. He’s one of the most elite defencemen this league has in our opinion as a coaching staff. And sometimes we marvel at what he’s been able to do as far as helping us win at both ends of the rink.”
Teammates think he’s viewed as one-dimensional, a point-producer and nothing more, much like Karlsson, the reigning winner of the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenceman.
If not on quite the same level offensively as Karlsson, Letang is close. His point-per-game production in the past five seasons is bettered only by Karlsson among NHL defencemen, and only four at the position have outproduced him since he entered the league for good in the fall of 2007.
“I know everybody knows how good he is offensively, how explosive he is, the type of plays he can make and how many points he has, but I don’t think he gets enough credit for his defensive game,” teammate Olli Maatta said, noting Letang’s nightly task of defending top lines.
Pittsburgh fared well defensively with Letang on the ice, better than Ottawa did with Karlsson or Montreal did with P.K. Subban, though not quite as well as Doughty in terms of shot suppression.
The numbers suggest his teammates all get better when he’s on the ice. Maatta boasted a 55.4 per cent puck possession mark with Letang, substantially better than a 47.7 per cent showing without him.
Letang believes he’s benefited from the coaching change which saw Sullivan replace Mike Johnston in mid-December.
Letang had one goal and 14 points in 25 games under Johnston this season, but 15 goals and 53 points in 46 games under Sullivan. Pittsburgh as a whole scored and held the puck more under the long-time Rangers assistant.
“The fact that we had success as a team, it brings success to individuals,” Letang said. “We’re scoring a lot of goals so the stat sheet is more padded.”
Sullivan says he urges Letang to be more calculated in his decision-making, imploring the two-time all-star to adopt a “less is more” approach. The coach said Letang sometimes tries to make too much happen in a bid to make a difference for the team, which finished the regular season with 14 wins in 16 games.
Health has otherwise remained the question for Letang, who topped the 70-game mark for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign when he played in all 82 games. He’s rarely sustained full health, including the unfortunate absence in the post-season last spring.
When he’s healthy there’s little doubt that Letang is one of the game’s best on defence. But underrated or not, Letang doesn’t seems to care.
“Either you’re a fan or you’re not a fan,” he said. “Everybody’s got favourite players out there. Some you like more than others.”