Kris Letang in his natural habitat: Looking at a puck in the back of his own net.

Kris Letang in his natural habitat: Looking at a puck in the back of his own net.

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.

Comments (34)

  1. He’s gotta be hurt. But that goes back to a question Justin regularly asks: why play hurt when you are just going to hurt the team?

  2. This is some of the most poorly written commentary I’ve ever read. Your points are valid but your mastery of the English language is just miserable.

  3. I would say he’s hurt but he looks like he’s moving just fine. It just looks like he’s lost his mind.

  4. Sit him for a period.

    Crosby should have been sat for a period last game too.

    Send a wake up call to these guys. “You’re not the best players on the ice, much less the world, tonight”.

  5. He has definitely been bad. I’d still err on the side of keep him in, since he’s in theory one of your best defenceman, and 2 games is a small sample size. Maybe he pulls his head out of his rear end. Or maybe not…

  6. As a Pens fan, I agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion. He is the dumbest talented defenseman in the league. he has played himself right out of Pittsburgh in this series. With contracts for both him and Malkin coming up this summer and a tight cap situation, I suspect Letang will be dealt for a couple young promising guys with brains.

  7. i really hope the Pens win four straight to make this seem more stupid than it already is. How about “Hey Kris Letang and the entire Penguins have to play better?”

  8. Awful is an absolute understatement.

  9. Really, who besides us armchair NHL analysts are surprised? Letang has had the benefit of playing behind some very talented forwards who play a strong system that doesn’t leave them leaning on their D all that much. He’s played in front of a guy that, up until a few weeks ago, was an above-average goalie *at worst*, who could bail out d-men making bad decisions. Take away one of those things (see: Vokoun) and you can survive; but when your best guys on your forward lines start making dumb plays (see: Sidney Crosby, game 2), there’s really nowhere to hide.

    Contrast that to the Bruins defense, which has repeatedly bailed out sleepwalking forwards throughout the shortened season (and had Tuukka Rask to bail them out, in turn). The fact that writers gave Letang a Norris nod over Chara, or even Seidenberg, just illustrates their own idiocy. (No I am not saying Seidenberg is the best defenseman in the NHL, but he’s certainly had a better run than Letang.)

    • I don’t know, the first time I saw Letang play this bad was in the 2011 Pens-Bolts series. He was trying to do everything by himself and was taking crazy chances. He was great this year, truthfully, up until this series. He seems to have lost his mind like he did in the 2012 Flyers series.

      Whatever is wrong with him is in between his ears, but he would probably be more effective if he was injured and stuck to a shutdown role.

  10. If Letang just skated out and fell down in front of his net for 30 seconds he’d be more useful each shift than he has been so far in this series. The Bruins would at least have to skate around him or shoot over him.

  11. That’s taking one right out of Tortorella’s book – don’t like it, Letang’s got to play, and he has got to simplify his game. No pinching unless he’s sure, and no pinching 15 seconds into the game!

    • Good call – I was about to say: “Bench him?” (Sure, it worked for Lucic. But he and the Bruins are completely different animal.)

      Bylsma benches Letang, and the Pens go down? Hooooo-boy. He’ll be joining Torts on TSN, or something like that.

  12. “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.”

    English sir, English.

  13. I agree with you. He looks like half the player he’s been in the past… It has to be an injury, because looks slower skating and reacting.

  14. this guy shouldn’t write the menu on a chalkboard outside a dive bar

  15. Can the Pens afford to scratch Letang if they have any hope of maintaining “Sexy Pens” status?

  16. Letang is pinching in and trying to force plays or turnovers, just like the rest of the team, instead of staying defensively sound. He has been on the ice for a lot of goals because he is playing a very high risk, high reward style. Simplifying his game and letting the forwards make the plays, and not looking for stretch passes every time would make things easier for the pens through the neutral zone into the attacking zone.

    As for Letang’s Norris qualifications, it’s a regular season award and he was spectacular in the regular season. In fact, Chara was absent or sleepy for stretches, which is why he’s not in the running this year. Personally, I hate nominating players just because they’ve won before (Lidstrom, Chara) when there are years they flat out don’t deserve it.

  17. I have to agree with most of the arguments everyone is making, however, it’s not just the jackasses skating around that need an ass whopping, what about the idiots defending the goal? They look like they’re shaking like the god damn cowardly lion talking to the F-in wizard…. WTF!!! I’d bench the whole F-in team and bring in the Johnstown Jets, Chiefs, Thunder, or whatever the hell they’re called now! Idiots!

  18. Quite possibly the most incoherent article I have ever read.

  19. goddamn it’s annoying when lambert’s right

  20. I’m confused, why has everyone been commenting on the terrible play of the Penguins with the comments on Crosby, Letang, Malkin etc. not playing to thier capabilities. No one, absolutely no one, is looking at the reason the Bruins are up 2-0 and are going to possibly sweep this team with half a dozen or so Hall of Famers. It’s not what the Penguins aren’t doing, it’s what the Bruins are doing. Solid positional defense, crisp passes out of the defensive zone, backchecking forwards who are also hounding the puck on offesive forechecks. The solution to an offensive powerhouse like the Penguins is take away time and space which is exactyly what the Bruins are doing. And last, but certainly not least, a goaltender who plays a very simple positional style making the initial save and not giving up rebounds. Take notice the majority of Rask’s saves are right on the B, he centers himself to the shot with excellence. It’s not Pittsburgh’s playing below standards, it’s Boston’s solid defense, and we all know….. DEFENSE wins Championships

    • THANk YOU!! The Bruins have played some of the best hockey I have ever seen, I am tired of hearing about the Pens reasons for losing and no mention to the fact that the Bruins are dominating the entire game. No luck no excuses, just a solid team effort all around!!!

    • Your defense doesn’t win championships. 58.3 seconds. Goooodnightttt.

  21. At least this time the guy is more within the realm of reality, unlike what he wrote on puckdaddy after game 1: “The Pittsburgh Penguins are, we would all agree, the better team in the series when it comes purely to playing the sport of hockey”. I missed the memo where hockey doesn’t include goalies, two ends of the ice, and willingness to be hit to move the puck forward. Maybe yet he will be proven right with his bawling ‘oh my gawd if the refs don’t do something somebody is gonna get hurt’ statements.

  22. Dan Bylsma is getting exposed as a second rate coach.

    In 2009 he took over a disciplined team with elite superstars that was molded by Therrien, and rode them to a cup. Since then he hasn’t utilized his talent at all. Look at last year’s Philly series and this year’s struggles.

  23. And I guess that is why you are a sports writer!

  24. Asking questions are genuinely pleasant thing if you are
    not understanding something completely, but this post presents fastidious understanding
    even.

  25. You let your own little personal agendas with specific team’s and players cloud your judgement. You sound like a tween princess ranting on here. Not intelligent at all. When you call someone the worst player ever, when he’s clearly not, no one is going to believe your accurate opinions because of all the other bullshit you write.
    Tone it down princess, keep your outlandish comments out of your threads.

  26. Your style is very unique compared to other
    people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark
    this blog.

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