By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)
Kris Letang has been a big liability for the Pens over the first two games, but rather than pile on, we want to bring him into our embrace and help him find his way back to being the "perennial Norris Trophy nominee who will never actually win the Norris and who is equally prone to dynamic brilliance and horrifying mistakes" that we've all come to love. Here's an out of the box idea that will limit the damage Letang can do to his own team and might actually help shore up another team weakness.
Letang should play wing in Game 3.
Here are several hastily compiled reasons:
- Letang has been the Pens' worst defensemen in the first two games. He's passing the puck directly to the other team with regularity and he's taken some terrible penalties (including one that led to the tying goal in Game 2). Would Bortuzzo, Engellend or Despres be worse than Letang has been over the first two games? It's hard to imagine.
- There is no reason to expect -- or wait for -- Letang to play his way out of this slump. Sure, it's possible that his struggles are due to lingering effects from his stroke, but if that's the case: 1) are these lingering effects really going to go away any time soon?, and 2) the Pens don't have time to wait. If Letang plays equally poorly in Game 3, but all of the sudden reverts to his 2011 form before Game 4, it might be too late.
- Brian Gibbons is listed as day-to-day and the Pens have no one appealing waiting in the wings. Jayson Megna? He's ok, but skating 8:34 between Joe Vitale and Craig Adams is more likely to ruin Megna's career than help the Pens win Game 3. Taylor Pyatt is the worst player in the league. Those are the options.
For all his struggles, Letang is a million times more talented than Megna or Pyatt. And, as described above, Engelland or Bortuzzo can probably play at least as well as Letang has played in Games 1 and 2. (NOTE: We are not expecting Engelland or Bortuzzo to play very well if they dress in Game 3). Letang at forward, where his turnovers will put his team in less immediate peril, is a better option than Megna or Pyatt.
- Let's say Gibbons is fine and plays in Game 3. Tanner Glass is the second worst player in the league and, as we discussed in our recap, actively hurts the team by only being able to play 11 minutes in an 81 minute game. Letang at winger, even if he's never played wing before, is better than Tanner Glass. And he can play more than 11 minutes.
- Letang might actually be OK at forward. As Gibbons showed, speed matters, and Letang can skate like the wind. He also has offensive talent and he's a right handed shot. A Crosby-Kunitz-Letang line could absolutely keep Columbus on their heels.
- This will prevent the Pens from dressing Taylor Pyatt, and we're all better for that.
- Letang can always take a few shifts at D or play the point on the second PP.
- Deryk Engelland has gotten some time at wing this season, but let's be real: Letang would be a better winger than Engelland (and, as discussed above, Engelland should at least be equivalent to the Game 1 and 2 version of Letang).
- This would be a huge blow to Letang's ego. First, who cares? Second, maybe he could use the humbling.
- Finally, the Pens need to try something different. The team just feels a little stale, a little off. If Letang pumps in a goal while skating on Sid's right side, that could be a huge burst for a team desperately in need of something ... different.