The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Friday night matchup against division rivals the New York Islanders was a much anticipated game. It was not anticipated because this would have been goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s first game against the Islanders since being pulled in the two teams’ playoff series last season, as the team decided to go with backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff. Nor would be it be anticipated because the Penguins have had a few days off.
Rather, the anticipation of the game on Friday was because it marked the return of Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang being inserted back into the Penguins’ lineup.
This was Letang’s first regular-season game of the season. Letang has been battling a leg injury and has finally been cleared to play. This is great news for a Pens team that is already atop of the new Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have gotten off to a great start, going 7-2 with Letang out. Penguins fans finally got to see what a healthy Pens’ blue line will look like for the first time.
This is a team that already has shown a change in defensive philosophy since last season. With the addition of Letang, the Pens’ blue line only gets better.
Letang was paired up with shut-down defenseman Rob Scuderi in last night’s game. This will turn out to be a very lethal combination on both sides of the ice. Letang has blazing speed and is very good with the puck, and when you mix that with a player who is a fantastic shot blocker and just a great overall defender, it should be very exciting to see how these two mesh with one another in the games to come.
With Letang out for the time that he has been, the Penguins’ organization have shown how deep they truly are with their defensemen. Youngster Olli Maatta earned a spot on this team because of the injury to Letang, and played so well that the team decided to keep him up with the Pens instead of sending him down to his junior league team.
Veteran defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen have also shown Pens coach Dan Bylsma that he has extra weapons for his team’s extremely dangerous power play. Ironically, that power play went 0-for-5 in Friday’s game.
The Penguins are so deep at defense that Deryk Engelland has been moved to play fourth-line winger, and highly-regarded former first-round draft pick Simon Despres has not got the chance to come up from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins to play for the big team.
No team wants to see an injury to their star player. When those players are not in the lineup, that team is just different. The Penguins did find a silver lining when Letang was out. They found out really how deep they truly are at defense and if something like this happens again, they will be ready for it.