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Talking to Myself: Letangerang

This week, I talk about other people talking about Kris Letang's return to Norris form, Mike Johnston's handling of young players, and more.

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December 15, Penguins Live

Josh Yohe on Bobby Farnham:  "He just plays 100 mph at all times, he agitates the heck out of people, he'll fight anybody, he's just a little ball of energy.  I talked him this morning and said 'you really like aggravating people, don't you?' and he gave me the big, toothless hockey player grin and said 'yes I do.'  That's just the kind of guy he is.  He drove the Blue Jackets nuts and they were taking runs at him and Rust dropped the gloves to protect him."

Farnham strikes me as the kid who'd put his finger an inch from your face and repeatedly say "I'm not touching you" until you snapped.  I don't like that the NHL allows guys like that to be effective, but as long as they are, you may as well have someone that's good at it, and he is.

December 15, Penguins Live

Adam Gretz on Kris Letang:  "He's been tremendous all year.  The past couple of games has probably been the best hockey's he's played in maybe ever; just playing at a completely dominant level.  I thought all season he's been fantastic when he's been in the lineup; he's been their best defenseman.  A year ago, there was all this talk of maybe they should consider trading him.  Is his contract going to be too much?  This is why you don't trade him.  This is why you do everything you can to keep a guy like that because when he is on his game he can take over a game.  He's been doing that this season, especially the past two nights.  He's playing his way into the early Norris trophy discussion and just at a level that few guys can reach.  He's just such an electrifying player with the puck on his stick and he's a great skater.  There are few guys in the league on that position  that can play offensively like he can.  I think sometimes his defensive game is underrated.  I don't think he's anywhere as bad as some of his critics will point out.  He's putting it all together right now and playing some kind of hockey.

I really like watching players that have a lot of skill, so I've always rooted for guys like Letang.  Watching it all come together for him this year has been a treat and he's been a major asset for this team.

December 15, Penguins Hotline

Mike Johnston on Brian Dumoulin:  "With all our young guys, what we try to do is...  we tell them if they make a mistake out there, as long as it's a mistake we can correct, and it's out of effort and trying to get done what we're trying to get done out there...  and I thought Dumo in New York got caught in some bad situations, but the mistakes were very correctable.  Coming back in we told him 'you're gonna get another chance to come back' and tonight I thought he was good.  It was a tough game against a very good hockey team that has a lot of dangerous players and I thought he managed his ice well.  It's great to see him rewarded with a goal; I'm sure it adds to his confidence."

I loved hearing this; just a great job from Johnston and the coaching staff.  I never had the hatred of the previous staff that some do, but Dan Bylsma definitely did not have patience with younger players.  It shouldn't be a surprise that a guy with a lot of recent experience at the junior level does.  I'm a big fan of making sure players can play without being afraid of making a mistake that will get them benched.  That kind of fear can paralyze a player and you can't play good hockey like that.

December 18, Penguins Hotline

Johnston on Bryan Rust:  "When the puck is on his stick, he can make a play quickly, he can get a shot away quickly as you saw him score the goal.  I think he's a player, for me, from what I've seen so far in my evaluation of him, that's got a good offensive upside, so I'm trying to put him with some players that can make plays to see where he can get to.  Tonight in overtime I put him out there and I really thought he helped create that goal.  He made the hit in the corner, kept the puck alive in the zone, made the change and Geno and Comeau got the goal together.  We have some confidence in him as a player.  It started with his development, but its' also... he seems to be a guy that now he's got the opportunity, some guys relish the opportunity and take advantage of it and he's doing that now.  He doesn't seem to be nervous.  It's nice to see he can play with good players."

Rust has been a really pleasant surprise.  His first goal was a beauty and his speed seems to create something on most shifts.  I like him getting fill-in duty in the top 6, but even when everyone's healthy, I'd still like to see him stay.  He seems like he does enough away from the puck that he could do well in a bottom 6 role as well.  He isn't a huge hitter like Farnham, but he can really cause problems on the forecheck with his speed and he's got some ability with the puck.

December 20, Pens Week

Bob Grove said then Penguins are "almost a different club whenever (Letang) is healthy and playing the way he's been playing.  Paul Steigerwald said  "He's sensational right now.  His game is so pure and he doesn't seem to be over-thinking the game.  He's just playing naturally and making all the right decisions and not trying to do too much.  It seems like he's taking a little off his shot at times to makes sure he gets it on the net.  He's not missing the net as much.  Just every aspect of his game has come up.  He talked about his patience and I think the system has made him a better player.  He doesn't feel like he's in a hurry as much to get to the offensive zone or make a play.  He's able to hang on to the puck a little more.  If he wants to go backwards with it or move it back to his partner he can do that.  Just generally, I think he calms the game down now.  He brings a tempo to the game, as opposed to maybe forcing things before.  Believe me, he was great before, but now he's at the top of his game."  Grove added,  "That ability to get shots through from the point is a big piece of his game that's changed, because that's always been a struggle for him."  Steigerwald continued, "The other thing is, on the power play at times, he wasn't a guy you felt always knew exactly what to do, the decision-making was a little off.  I see him being better on the power play too.  Everything he's done at even-strength in terms of that patience I talked about has transferred to the power play.  All facets of his game are clicking right now.  He's really good defensively and you know he can play physical when he has to, but I think the big thing is he's just playing a really pure game right now and I think he's a Norris trophy candidate if he can keep doing it and stay healthy."

If you haven't already read this article from the Pens' official site, you really should; lots of good quotes in there.  The big point here for me is how the old Bylsma system of get-north-as-fast-as-possible may have been a detriment to Letang, even though he was one of the guys capable of making those long stretch passes.  Having the freedom to hold on to the puck and not feel rushed into making a pass has seemingly allowed him to get comfortable, and that seems to have had a positive effect on the rest of his game.

Steigerwald on Sidney Crosby:  "What's difficult for Sid is when he plays with Pascal Dupuis, [Dupuis] has got that speed to get in on the forecheck to get to pucks.  Sid feels, I think, in his mind [now] he's got to be the guy that digs pucks out.  So he can't be both the guy that digging the puck out and the guy that's scoring the goal.  He needs that other dynamic there where he can maybe go to the front of the net and someone can get him the puck to score a goal.  I don't think he feels that he's got that right now.  He feels like he has to work a little bit harder for pucks.

Interesting observation from Steigerwald.  Getting Kunitz back (provided he's healed and better than he had been the 2 weeks prior to him leaving the lineup) should help.  Getting a goal Saturday should too.  If something still looks off, maybe you try Rust with him.  Rust could get in ahead of Crosby to dig out some pucks and has the skill to get 87 the puck.  I'm not suggesting you take Kunitz or Hornqvist off that line now, but if you get to the point where you want to try something else, that's an option I'd definitely look at.

December 20, Penguins Hotline

Johnston on Letang:  After watching 15-20 games in the summer and really watching him close, he's the type of player you really want to build a team around because he can control the play.  He controls the play in every area.  Whether you're trying to get out of your zone, he makes everything look effortless.  You're coming up through the neutral zone, you're in the the offensive zone, he can generate scoring chances.  Hes a dangerous guy on the attack.  The main thing for me is we have to get out of our zone fast and we've got to out clean and he has the ability to do both of those things."  Bourque added, "He's just really simplified his game and with all that skill and the simplification, this is maybe the best I've seen Kris Letang play on a consistent basis."

If you've been a regular reader here (thanks if you are), you know how big I am on these ultra-talented guys playing a simple game and letting that talent work for them.