No player in the league has experienced the roller coaster year that Kris Letang has gone through. He was coming off a Norris Trophy nominated season, had a rough series against the Boston Bruins (as many of his teammates did) and signed an eight year, $58 million dollar extension in the off-season. Of course, then it all went off the rails with a knee injury in training camp, a return and some uneven play before suffering a stroke in later January.
No one knew what was next, but the battery of doctors all confirmed his health and cleared him for play. After weeks of skating with his teammates in practice, Letang got back in the lineup for the final three games. Remarkably, he looked like he hadn't missed a beat scoring a goal and adding three assists down the stretch and playing a game-high 26:53 vs. the Ottawa Senators in the season's final game.
Letang seemed to be back to his good "old self" as a difference making pure #1 defenseman that could eat minutes, move the puck, skate all over the ice and be a tremendous help to a team needing depth. Then, Game 1 happened. Letang's turnover to Derek MacKenzie on the power play gifted Columbus a 3-1 lead early in the second period. A terrible mistake at what could have been the worst possible time.
His playing time got slashed, and he responded by taking a frustration penalty later in the second period. Letang unnecessarily slashed Boone Jenner behind the play after another thundering, clean check that Jenner was dishing out all night. It's the type of call a ref will call every time if he sees it, and they didn't miss it. Letang would also take an interference penalty in the 3rd a period- a period where he only played 3:55.
Now, the question becomes: how will Kris Letang bounce back? Will he be used again as a #1 defenseman that plays 23-25 minutes? Will he get his spot on the left point of the #1 power play unit? Can he be stronger mentally and not take penalties? Will he be better physically and make mistakes that give up breakaways?
Letang said he showed lack of respect to teammates with penalties, agreed with coach decision to cut ice time #pens— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) April 18, 2014
Letang has shown some growth and development in perhaps that will help him moving forward.
Can Marc-Andre Fleury keep it on the tracks?
Fleury, to his credit, stayed the course in Game 1. He'd given up 3 goals in the first 21 minutes of the game, an all too familiar playoff refrain that were ending in blowout losses. But not another puck went into the net as he and the defense rallied to salvage a decent night, and help the team to a win.
And, in recent years, starting series strong has been a hall mark for Marc-Andre Fleury. He's 3-2 since 2010 playoff series in Game 1's (with two shutouts) and also a pretty good .915 save percentage.
But here's a sobering stat: in his last 5 Game 2's, Fleury is 1-4 (losing 4 straight) and sporting an awful .857 save percentage and has given up 19 goals in those 5 games. The Penguins can't afford that type of performance this year and to keep it on the rails, Fleury needs to give them another solid game.
So based on those two stats, the Penguins haven't had a 2-0 series lead with Fleury in net since the Carolina series in May 2009. That's six series- five of which the Penguins had home ice advantage, which means that Pittsburgh has given home-ice advantage right back to their opponents.
If Fleury can shake the Game 2 doldrums and play well and get the Pens a win, it could set the stage for a shorter series. If he can't, the Pens are in for another long series and give their opponent some life and confidence.