By Rob Rossi, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Kris Letang admittedly shoots to score — at least, more than the Penguins’ other offensively skilled defensemen.
He has scored a lot less, too. His three goals are one more than the combined efforts of defensive defensemen Brooks Orpik and Jay McKee.
Three goals aren’t enough for Letang, whose right-handed shot has been a lauded weapon dating to his days as a dominant offensive defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior League.
Three goals, scored in 55 games before facing the Dallas Stars on Saturday at Mellon Arena, are one fewer than he scored in 23 Stanley Cup playoff games last spring.
Three goals, on a team-leading 129 shots by defensemen, probably won’t land Letang a long-term contract offer on the restricted free-agent marker much better than the one near $3.5 million annual the Penguins have pitched to his agent.
Letang insists none of the above is on his mind when an opportunity to shoot presents itself.
“Most of the time I’m trying to make sure the shot goes through everyone,” he said Friday after a practice at Southpointe. “The guys aren’t coming at you; they’re coming into your (shooting) lane. He’s trying to take your lane away and then your time and space.”
A survey of Letang’s defense corps teammates provided the following approach to getting shots on-net:
Alex Goligoski, who has scored seven goals on 69 shots, tries to “definitely shoot for a spot … but if the goalie is square you don’t have to try and make a perfect shot.”
Jordan Leopold, who scored seven goals on 69 shots before arriving Tuesday from Florida, tries “to put pucks into areas where the guys up front can get it.”
Mark Eaton, who has scored three goals on 56 shots, tries to “keep it low and get it through — nothing too complicated.”
Conversely, Letang prefers to “move quick to the middle because you’re more dangerous there than from the half-wall” and “go high … just to make sure it doesn’t get blocked on the ice.”
His preference is the wrist shot “because it’s more accurate,” and he considers future Hall-of-Fame Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom as the cream of the crop regarding shooters among defensemen.
“He moves on the blueline with his head up the whole time, and he has that (stick) drag so he can wrist it,” he said. “It’s always a half-slapper or a wrist shot, and it’s powerful and accurate.”
Lidstrom has missed on 29.8 percent of non-blocked shots taken this season. Letang has missed on 35.5 percent of his non-blocked shot attempts.
That percentage seems high, but Goligoski is at 33 percent of missed non-blocked attempts. Gonchar, widely lauded around the NHL for his ability to get pucks to the net, has missed on 31.3 percent on non-blocked attempts.
Leopold, who has missed on 31.8 percent of non-blocked shot attempts, laughed at the suggestion that hitting the net — or at least the goalie — is a more difficult challenge than most fans presume.
“It’s a lot more difficult,” he said, “but from what I can tell in this system, and it’s only been two games, we do a good job of moving pucks in the areas to where guys are — and you’re able to get shots off.
“There’s a little more room, because of the guys in the dressing room, to get shots off. You get it quicker and with a little more time to shoot. You certainly seem to get the chance to shoot.”
Letang is looking forward to those chances over the final 18 games and into the playoffs.
“That’s the only way to score more goals,” he said. “Even if I don’t score, the guys up front can if I get the puck on the net.”