When Kris Letang was cleared to play in the playoffs after suffering a stroke earlier this year, Pittsburgh Penguins fans rejoiced. One of the best defensemen in the NHL was back and he would take over a power play that was already ranked No. 1 in the league.
Or so we thought.
Through three games, I’d find it difficult to entertain any argument that states Kris Letang hasn’t been the worst player for the Penguins thus far.
The Penguins have found a way to win two of three from the Columbus Blue Jackets despite Letang’s horrendous play, but in Game 4 he needs to be a difference maker. Well, let me rephrase. He has been a difference maker through the first three games, but in a negative way. So far this series he has zero points, a minus-two rating and has taken four penalties – not really what you’d expect from someone who was nominated for the Norris Trophy last season. Letang needs to get out of his current funk and start producing for the Penguins.
The power play was horrendous in Game 3 (0-for-6) which can be placed on numerous players, but it all starts on the back end with Letang. Let’s not forget, it was Letang’s horrible turnover that led to Derek MacKensie‘s shorthanded goal in Game 1. If the Penguins want to escape from this series on top, Letang simply has to be better when the Penguins have the man advantage.
It’s not just the turnovers or the lack of offensive production that has been frustrating, but Letang has taken some bad penalties throughout the series and the Penguins’ penalty kill just hasn’t been the same since the Olympic break. Four penalties in three games from your top defenseman is not something that’s going to make head coach Dan Bylsma very happy.
The Blue Jackets’ strategy has been to play as physical as possible and try to get into the heads of the Penguins’ top players. It has yet to work on Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who have both kept their cool so far, but it has certainly worked on Letang.
The Penguins can pretty much clinch the series with a win in Game 4 at Nationwide Arena, and Letang is likely to be a big factor in the outcome.