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Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Letang Has The Tools, But Needs To Be Smarter

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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First of all, I’d like to take a moment to wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ve had some time to think recently about the state of the Pittsburgh Penguins as November is drawing to a close and some concerns arose.

A lot has been said about the play of Kris Letang this season and last.

Let me start this off by saying, I think Letang is a phenomenal hockey player. He possesses a unique skill set and it’s easy to see why the Penguins shook some things up to sign him to an eight-year, $58 million extension this past summer.

If I’ve been critical of him, it’s because I know he can be a whole lot better than he’s shown. Something tells me he knows it too.

He’s better than this. Better yet, he has to be better than this.

The problem is that there are times where he tries to simply do too much, which gets him into trouble.

So far this season, Letang’s game could be best described as a case Jekyll and Hyde.

Everyone has good games and bad games, but that’s not where I’m going with this. Take last night for example.

Letang’s first shift of the second period saw the Toronto Maple Leafs score two goals in 29 seconds. A communication mixup between Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury allowed James van Riemsdyk to steal the puck and pop it into a vacated net.

Then, Letang tracked down a puck behind his net and instead of using his defense partner (Brooks Orpik) as a safety valve, he tries to take it himself, gets knocked off the puck by Tyler Bozak and the puck is in the back of the net again in the blink of an eye.

He just needs to play smarter at all times.

Yet, Letang did a lot of good things on the ice last night to help the Pens erase a 4-1 deficit and win 6-5 in the shootout.

Letang finished the game with a goal and two assists and looked the best I’ve seen him in a long time while quarterbacking the power play.

Again, there’s no question he possesses a unique set of skills, but I think he relies too much on the athleticism and creativity for his own good.

Take Fleury for example.

During Fleury’s first few years in the league, he relied heavily on his athletic ability to make jaw-dropping saves. The thing to keep in mind is that more often than not in those situations, the goaltender is out of position.

This was true of Fleury on many occasions.

Over the last couple of years, Fleury has looked much more calculated in his approach and calmer in the net. He has not been out of position nearly as much and the numbers this year (13-7-1, 2.16 GA, .915 save percentage) back that up.

He’s gained the experience to know he has the athleticism in his back pocket if he needs it, but that he doesn’t have to rely on it to make saves.

Letang hasn’t reached that point yet in his seven-years with the Penguins, which is a little concerning.

It’s also concerning to me that he appears to be the only one in the defense corps that Jacques Martin hasn’t gotten through to.

Again, it all boils down to just being smarter on the ice. I don’t think and would hope no one is looking at him to lead the offense. That’s why you have guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Letang just needs to calm down, take a breath and the rest will take care of itself. Sometimes simpler is better and his case is a prime example.

Like I said, he has all the talent in the world to be a top defenseman in this league. I’m hoping he can turn it around for both his sake and for the sake of the Penguins.

With Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi out for a while, the spotlight is only going to be brighter on Letang.

Here’s hoping he embraces the opportunity and shines.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice

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