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Insider Only Pens Buzz: Letang’s emergence as a “unique” No. 1 defenseman

DePaoli on the Pens
The Penguins (14-8-2) will hit the 25 game mark Saturday afternoon when they host the Calgary Flames at home. Here are a few thoughts/analysis on the Penguins as they near the 25 game mark.
*– Kris Letang’s emergence into a No. 1 defenseman has been fun to watch. His 19 points in 24 games is what likely jumps out to most people but it’s not his offensive numbers that standout to me. It’s the unique way he impacts games from a skating and decision making standpoint.
The talent has always been there but his transformation in “reading the play” like an elite defenseman is elevating him into the upper echelon of defensemen in the entire NHL.
Letang’s ability to take away passing lanes in the neutral zone, due to his closing speed in covering the whole ice is something few defenseman in this league can do.
It’s all coming together for Letang whose $3.5 million cap hit for the next 3 seasons is going to be a “big win” cap wise for the Penguins.
As the Penguins hit the 25 mark, Letang emerging as a star defenseman is one of the Penguins biggest storylines of the season.
*– Marc Andre Fleury’s 43 save performance against the Ottawa Senators Friday afternoon was his 8th straight start as Brent Johnson has not started since November 10th against the Boston Bruins.
Fleury’s bounce back from an awful start to the season began on Friday November 12th against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a 5-1 Penguins win.
If the Penguins didn’t have their epic collapse against the Bruins on Nov. 10 when they led 4-2 in the third period, it’s no guarantee Fleury gets that start against Tampa as Brent Johnson was winning starts away from Fleury whose confidence was shaken at the time.
That Tampa game was the key to Fleury turning around his play for several reasons, most notably his confidence.
*– There’s no doubting that Max Talbot and Evgeni Malkin have had their share of success together in the past but Talbot’s not a good fit on the second line.

Talbot is an asset to this team when he’s playing a third and fourth line role and getting a few select shifts in a top-6 role. Just don’t like the fit at this time.
*– Following Saturday’s action, the Penguins are now the No. 1 ranked penalty kill at 89.8%.
*– The Penguins are 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference with 30 points, behind No. 1 Washington (34 points) and No. 2 Philadelphia (33 points).
The vibe around the league from evaluators is that Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh are in a class of their own with Montreal (29 pts) and Boston (26 pts) just a step below the top three.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (28 pts) are a very dangerous team in the East but it’s fairly accurate at this time that when evaluating the East, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston are the top teams with how they are currently built.
If I was ranking the East based off who I feel are the best teams, not necessarily how many pts they have, here’s how they would go…
1. Philadelphia
2. Pittsburgh
3. Montreal
4. Washington
5. Boston
6. Tampa Bay
7. New York Rangers
8. Atlanta
Philadelphia has the look of the most complete team in the East and scouts appear sold on rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with many believing he’s the real deal. There’s not a serious weaknesses on this club.
Personnel wise, Washington still has the look of a regular season team. Question marks still at the goaltending position and on the backend. How many years have we been saying that?
When evaluating the East, based off who I feel are built for playoff success as constructed, I like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and even Montreal over Washington, at this point of course. However, the Caps won’t be No. 4 on my list when they acquire Florida’s Tomas Vokoun in February.
Boston wins with great goaltending and defense. Clearly going to be a factor in the East but they desperately need a puck moving defenseman.
Tampa Bay is giving up 3.22 goals per game. Have to upgrade their blueline between now and February 28th.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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