Letang Back Tonight – What does he mean to the line-up?

By Brian Metzer

The Penguins’ morning skate produced some good news and some bad news… let’s start with the bad: Arron Asham suffered his second concussion in less than a year and will miss tonight’s game and beyond. Asham’s is just the latest in a long line of concussions that have afflicted this team this season. He joins a list that already featured: Sidney Crosby, Zbynek Michalek, Robert Bortuzzo, Tyler Kennedy, and Kris Letang.

Sadly, his exit from the line-up was originally attributed to being sick… not the first time this has happened this season (Michalek). Is the medical team doing something wrong in these cases or are the players not properly relaying their symptoms? Just something for you to gnaw on…

Speaking of Kris Letang, he provided the good news, as he will be rejoining the line-up this evening and will skate his regular shift alongside Brooks Orpik. He will also reclaim his spot on the Penguins’ number one power play unit.

A case can be made that Letang’s absence actually hurt this team more than Sidney Crosby’s did during this season. They had already gotten pretty familiar with playing without their captain, but Letang was a constant — even last year during the injuries that plagued this team during the second half.

Letang was having what many were viewing as a Norris-like season when he was knocked from the line-up on Nov. 26 and the team really hasn’t looked the same since. Not shocking when you consider how many minutes he plays on a night-to-night basis. He is instrumental to the team’s breakout, he plays on the power play and even notched close to a minute per game on average on the penalty kill before his exit.

Overall, it was much harder to offset what Letang was bringing to the table during the early stages of the season than it was to deal with the loss of Crosby, in that the team was already plugging the holes left by Crosby as best it could.

Don’t take my word for it… just consider these statistics.

  • The Penguins scored 70 goals in 22 games with Letang this season for an average of 3.18 GPG.
  • The team notched just 67 goals in 22 games without Letang for an average of 3.05 GPG – sure that isn’t a huge disparity, but removed the 8-3 drubbing of the Buffalo Sabres and the total drops to 59 goals and 2.68 GPG.
  • Team record this season with Letang – 12-6-4. Team record without Letang – 12-11-0
  • The team scored 2 or less goals on only 4 occasions with Letang in the line-up this season, but found themselves scoring 2 or less 10 times without their talented rearguard.
  • The Penguins PK with Letang in the line-up clicked at an impressive 96-percent killing off 64 of 67 shorthanded situations, while it dropped to just 83-percent without him, killing just 64 or 77 without Letang.
  • Strangely enough the power play is actually slightly worse with Letang in the line-up, though it was pretty close to being the same. 19-percent with him and 20-percent without him.
  • Letang’s .86 points per game this season is a quarter point better than his previous career high of .61 set during last season.

As you can see, the Birds are gaining a significant part of the early success and he should make an almost immediate impact on not only the win/loss column, but the production of his teammates.

Read more on Letang in my column over at NHL.com: Letang Cleared for Takeoff

Stay tuned for more later…