Sunday, April 20, 2014

Is there any reason Kris Letang shouldn't dress as a winger in Game 3?

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.

Your thoughts?


  1. I believe I made this suggestion months ago.

  2. is there any idea i couldn't be sold on that includes keeping pyatt out of the lineup?

  3. I remember (semi-)joking about this back in 2011--Letang's like Tim Tebow; his raw physical talent is blatantly obvious, but his skill set (and demeanor) just as obviously dictates that he shouldn't play at the position he thinks he's destined to. The conclusion led me to constantly referring to the Kunitz/Neal/Crosby/Malkin/Letang power play unit we've seen on and off for the past couple years as a '5 Forward' PP.

    Thanks for articulating why as well as anyone could.

    I'll also expand on your point about Pyatt not playing, saying that stuffing Letang at forward would help balance out the (shallow as a petri dish) talent among the Pens forwards. A 14/87/58 line allows Bennett to drop down to play with Sutter. Assuming Gibbons can play, he could go on either the 3rd or 4th line, with Stempniak taking the other spot, killing the chances of any 3-man combo of Vitale/Glass/Adams/Pyatt seeing the light of day.


  4. One thing no one is mentioning that is critical to this discussion: moving Letang up front allows Scuderi and Bortuzzo/Engelland to slot in as the third D pairing. That is indisputably where Scuderi belongs, if he even belongs in the lineup at all.

  5. Playing devils advocate for a moment, while Letang may be able to skate like the wind there have been plenty of instances in the first two games where that speed has not been on display, in fact he has consistently gotten beaten in this series in footraces to the puck. Whether that is because Columbus is just faster, or he is still nursing his heart condition I have no idea but if the argument for getting him on the ice is simply his speed then I have yet to see it on display in games 1 and 2. Nor do I see how demoting him to wing on the first line is somehow a punishment for the boneheaded penalties he has taken in the first two games. Letang has turned into the Marc-Andre Fluery of last post season and the sooner the Penguins get him off of the ice entirely the better their chances are going forward. Pittsburgh already has possession and attack zone issues with their bottom two lines, I would hate to see Letang make that three lines out of four.

    1. I didn't mean to suggest he plays the whole game with Crosby. If you dress him instead of Tanner Glass (or Gibbons if Gibbons is out), that's an immediate upgrade regardless of who Letang plays with or how many minutes he plays. I wouldn't look at this as punishing Letang, and I don't think the Pens should seek to punish him. I look at it as trying to get the best players on the ice. The Pens are not at the point (yet) where they are better off with Letang in street clothes. Dressing Engelland and playing 58 at forward over Glass, even for a few shifts, is worth a shot.

  6. Sorry- but this is an absolutely terrible idea. Sit him if you want to sit him. He certainly hasn't played well, and while I also think that's a bad idea, a legitimate argument could be made.

    But the guy is a defenseman for a reason. Wingers and offensive defensemen need wildly different abilities. Letang's strengths are his skating and his ability to get the puck up the ice. He needs to be able to see the play developing in front of him, whereas the wingers are the one's heading up the ice. Playing wing involves a lot of starting and stopping and finding soft spots in the offense zone to shoot from. That is about as far from Letang's game as could possibly be. He played wing once, was completely uncomfortable, and terrible at it.

    If you feel like you need to sit a guy, sit him. You don't put him in a position to fail by having him play a position that completely eliminates his skill set. It's stupid and misguided.

    I'm not sure what's up with the dude. He actually looked really good for the last couple of regular season games - he looked like himself, like last year's Norris candidate. And then the playoffs came. This make me think it's mental, not a consequence of the stroke. I can understand sitting him, but I still wouldn't. The Pens go nowhere in the playoffs without Letang to get the forwards the puck. Paul Martin can't be the only defenseman with the ability to do that. This is certainly not a strength of Bortuzzo or Engelland. So even though he isn't getting the job done, I think you have to let him play through it and hope he gets it together.