Lost a little bit in all the talk of how much of a choker loser idiot Sidney Crosby is has been just how atrocious Kris Letang, who was nominated for a Norris Trophy this season ahead of Zdeno Chara because the people who vote for these kinds of things tend to be awful, has been for his Pittsburgh Penguins.
Like, so-bad-I-want-to-cry awful. Like, so-bad-I-almost-don’t-blame-Marc-Andre-Fleury-for-some-of-them awful. Like, so-bad-I-don’t-understand-why-he’s-playing-at-this-point awful. Like, so-bad-he-has-to-be-hurt awful.
Of the nine goals Boston has scored in this series, he’s been on the ice for six of them. And yeah, plus-minus is a bad way to judge a guy but look at how the goals have been scored. He was on the ice for the David Krejci goal in the first game, conspicuous as the guy who lazily waved at a puck that popped up over his goaltender’s head, apparently oblivious that handpassing is allowed in the defensive zone. He was also on the ice for Nathan Horton’s goal a little less than four minutes later, and he sure wasn’t anywhere near the guy who scored or picked up the primary assist, because no one on the Penguins was (to be fair, he almost looked like he wanted to move toward Gregory Campbell, who fed across from below the left circle, so that’s something).
He was also on the ice for Brad Marchand’s opener 28 seconds into Game 2 that essentially ended the contest and maybe the series (you can see he’s the third guy back because he and Matt Niskanen stood around with their hands in their pockets while Crosby tried to juggle a bouncing puck alone at the point). He also had a sick feed to Torey Krug right up the middle of the slot — trying to spring Brooks friggin’ Orpik on a breakaway — on Nathan Horton’s first-period goal to make it 2-0. Here he is lazily waving his stick at any Bruin near him on Krejci’s goal to add to that lead. And here he is pushing off with one leg six times and spinning around in a circle on Patrice Bergeron’s tap-in to give Boston a 5-1 lead because he had no idea what the hell he was doing out there.
The one play he made on the only Pittsburgh goal of the series, for which he was, to his credit, on the ice, was to pass it, behind the net and under no pressure to Paul Martin. That he did this successfully after the series he’d had to that point was in many ways shocking.
He’s a minus-4 corsi across those games (driven largely by his atrocious minus-9 in Game 2 alone), with only two shots on goal to his name, three rather generously-recorded giveaways, and a minus-5 overall. This despite having just five of his shifts start in his defensive zone at even strength in the first two games. Even leaving aside the fact that this is obviously a very small sample size and everyone on the Penguins has been terrible, it’s still mind-boggling, especially for a player who tied for 28th in the league in corsi relative among players who got more than 30 games this season.
Obviously this was something the Penguins never figured on. Not just the Penguins’ Norris trophy candidate defenseman playing like garbage, per se, but more the whole “being outscored 9-1 by a team they were expected to clobber through sheer skill, on home ice” thing.
And as a consequence, with the series shifting to Boston, Dan Bylsma has vowed to switch up the line combinations in the throes of deep and well-deserved desperation. Most assume that means putting Crosby on a line with Evgeni Malkin as a means of juicing the offense, but in reality all that probably does is get both of them on the ice at the same time as Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara and probably convinces Claude Julien, who has last change over the next two games by the way, to put Dennis Seidenberg with them. Bylsma spent most of Games 1 and 2 trying to keep Crosby away from Bergeron as much as possible (and occasionally succeeded) but putting all his eggs in one basket seems ill-advised given that Julien’s eggs are playing much better overall.
So here’s a novel idea (that I acknowledge straightaway will never happen ever ever ever): Healthy-scratch Letang. The guy has played 48:40 over these first two games despite the fact that he’s been awful in all three zones. That’s the most of anyone on either team save for Chara. Obviously the Penguins would like to have all hands on deck for this Game 3, which will essentially determine just how out-of-this-series the Penguins are (one assumes the answer is “very,” without the game having been played), but Letang has been a clear detriment to his team, and getting him out of the lineup would both give him something to think about — like how important it is to actually skate around in your defensive zone sometimes — and maybe even send a message to the team that they gotta get their heads out of their asses.
The argument against such a move is pretty straightforward: The Penguins need their best defenseman, even if he’s not playing anything like himself, to be in the lineup if they have a hope of clawing their way back into the series by playing their game, which is to say having him rush the puck. However, the Penguins have rushed the puck about as effectively as you or I would in the first two games, and it seems unlikely that the trend would reverse itself on the whole with the series going to Boston.
There’s no reason other than the obvious not to at least try it. Nothing else has worked. And hey, maybe Simon Despres will surprise you. The only thing that would surprise you about Letang at this point was if one of his half-assed stick checks actually resulted in a turnover.