The stars of the Penguins 5-2 win on Monday night against the Ottawa Senators were two familiar foes of late in forward Mark Letestu and goaltender Brent Johnson.
Both continue to shine and played prominent roles in the Penguins victory.
Letestu who leads all NHL rookies with 7 points, had a goal and assist in the win and scored a big 1st period goal for Pittsburgh, blistering a wrist shot just inside the blueline past goaltender Brian Elliott for a 1-0 lead. It was a momentum type of goal that jump started a three goal period for Pittsburgh.
Letestu is also consistently playing an all around game and he was 6-for-12 (50%) in the faceoff circle against Ottawa. However, his offensive ability especially in the goal scoring department continues to intrigue the coaching staff and after starting the game on the 4th line, Letestu was quickly elevated back to the 2nd line with Evgeni Malkin.
Letestu is producing at just about anywhere in the lineup and the coaching staff must now find a spot for him. Tonight, his move up the depth was at the expense of young forward Eric Tangradi who spent much of the game on the 4th line in a limited role.
With Arron Asham inching closer to full health, it is still believed that Tangradi will be the odd-man out on the roster as the Penguins remain committed to keeping Eric Godard on the team.
Meanwhile, Letestu is running away with his opportunity and is making a believer of head coach Dan Bylsma that this just isn’t a hot streak and that Letestu belongs on this team.
“He’s getting rewarded on the score sheet and he’s getting opportunities to put up points, ” Bylsma said.”
“Tonight he did it with his shot. Last game he did it with a puck battle in front of the net and on top of that, he’s responsible in other areas of his game to make him a reliable guy. He’s done a great job, “Bylsma said.
Letestu has had a great mindset since camp opened up and he has the attitude of a player who knows that you can’t stop working and have to bring it on a daily basis. Letestu credits his parents for being a hard worker.
“My parents taught me how to work and that’s kind of how I’ve gotten here and I think that’s why I’m getting success,” Letestu said. “Maybe I’m capable of something that we weren’t sure about.”
Captain Sidney Crosby also had some good things to say about Letestu, calling him an impact player.
“He’s been solid since the start, ” Crosby said. “Scored a big goal for us and he’s been playing really well at both ends of the ice and he’s really made an impact for us.”
Where Letestu ends up fitting into the lineup will be interesting to watch. His intriguing puck skills will lead to him getting more opportunities on the 2nd line with Evgeni Malkin.
However, with Jordan Staal’s eventual return, giving Letestu an extended look on left wing should be an option that the coaching staff explores.
Letestu told me weeks ago that playing wing is something he’s comfortable with and opened too. He has accuracy with his shot, good hands around the net and gets his shot off well with velocity off the rush.
For the time being, winning a role as the third line center doesn’t appear to be a likely option for Letestu. Max Talbot is coming on of late and indications are the staff wants to go with a tough rugged third line of Matt Cooke, Talbot and Arron Asham when Asham gets back into the lineup, which should happen at somepoint next week.
Goaltender Brent Johnson, the games No. 3 star, stepped up once again making 32 saves and leading Pittsburgh to a 5-2 win. Johnson is off to a 4-0 start and continues to play a prominent role for Pittsburgh and has helped the Penguins move above .500 for the first time this season.
“Brent Johnson didn’t have a huge opportunity in camp but Brent Johnson did play some good hockey for us last year and minus a couple times when he was sick and didn’t get in the lineup, he had some good numbers for us last year, “Bylsma said in his post-game comments.
“It’s not a surprise for us to see him do this, “Bylsma said. “He had stretches in the National Hockey League in the past where he’s done this for good periods of hockey for his team. Training camp, maybe he didn’t have the opportunity for this but he’s had it the last four games.”