Has Kris Letang turned the corner?

Jared Wickerham

With their 3 other top four defensemen hurt, the Penguins had no choice but to lean on the struggling Kris Letang. Quietly, over the past few games, the talented defenseman may be regaining his confidence and putting together some better performances.

Kris Letang is a very visible player. He has a certain flare, from the strings dangling from the back of his uniform, to his slick skating and playing of the puck to his physical nature that belies his slight stature. Watch a Pittsburgh Penguins game, and you’re bound to notice #58, he’s the type of player that sticks out.

This, of course, is a blessing or a curse. For every good play of mesmerizing skill, there’s a frustrating defensive breakdown, or a shot fired high and wide from the net. Letang is a creator on the ice, but his play can be destructive as well. Playing safe isn’t often a trait that Letang has, for better or worse.

These days for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with their three other top four defensemen on the shelf with injuries, getting Kris Letang into gear has gone from a side-project to a priority. In the past four games, Letang has logged 108:31 (more than 27 minutes a night), playing tough competition and a lot of power play time alike.

He’s been on the ice for four goals against, including both two that Boston scored in the last 1:31 of the game to pull out the win. But, no glaring mistakes have eschewed Letang, especially in great performances recently against the Sharks and Blue Jackets, where Letang helped power the Pens to impressive wins, and relatively quiet ones too. Letang’s play of late is no small feat considering the likes of Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik have been injured and the team has really needed their soon-to-be highest paid defenseman to play like it.

We’ve heard reports about Letang’s slow start, where a knee injury in training camp forced him out for the first few weeks of the season. Letang has also fallen out of favor it seems with Hockey Canada, who has right-handed defensemen like Shea Weber, PK Subban and Drew Doughty ahead of him on the depth chart, which may or may not have been a reason Letang has seemed to sulk lately. Some have also speculated his knee may not be 100% healed, though it seems odd he would be back playing this early in the season if not fully healthy.

The Islanders game four games ago seemed to be a new low- with Letang misplaying pucks, being out of position, having his stick break at inopportune times, it was a comedy of errors that was almost, well, comedic. How could such a talented player be playing so poorly?

Whatever it may be, the recent turn the Pens have been forced to make forced to make to Letang, by virtue of literally having no other choice, has seemed to kick him into gear. Whether it was injury, Team Canada questions or anything else for a reason for a sluggish start, Pittsburgh has needed their Norris caliber defenseman to play like it. Time will tell if Letang’s turned the corner and is back to contributing at that level again, but at least for the past few games he’s back to showing glimpses of why he was worth the big contract he signed this summer.

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