Kris Letang Is Pittsburgh Penguins' Most Important Player Going into Playoffs

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Kris Letang Is Pittsburgh Penguins' Most Important Player Going into Playoffs
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby may be the best players on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang is easily the most important.

Letang is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury, and the Penguins have lost two of three without him in the lineup. Both losses came against the lowly New York Islanders, and their one win was a nailbiter.

With Letang in the lineup, the Penguins are 30-11-6 this season. Without him, they're 18-13-0. The Penguins did go 5-0 with Letang out of the lineup in early March, but the whole team was clicking at the time and it was during their 11-game winning streak. Take that out and they're just a .500 team without Letang.

It's also important to mention that three of the five wins that came without Letang during that stretch were one-goal wins. 

The point is, the Penguins can win a few games without Malkin or Crosby, but they can't win without Letang in the playoffs. He's such a vital piece to the roster and he flies under the radar compared to Crosby and Malkin.

There's a reason why the Penguins were able to host a playoff series last season and record the second-highest point total in franchise history without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Letang was healthy all of last season, and he was a major reason why Pittsburgh was successful. 

The way he brings the puck up the neutral zone is reminiscent of Sergei Gonchar from his glory days with the Pens. There's no doubt Letang learned a few things from the former Pens defenseman, and it's showing. He's one of the best puck possession guys in the league and because of this, he helps facilitate the offense for the Pens.

He's somewhat like a point guard in basketball. His presence helps elevate the entire Penguins offense. Without him, they look lost sometimes. 

He also quarterbacks the powerplay better than anyone else. When Letang is not in the lineup, the Penguins become an easier team to play against on both even-strength and special teams situations.

The following table exemplifies the previous notions from above regarding Letang's value to the Pens. 

Letang's Value PP% Goals per Game Goal Differential Record
With Letang 19.8% 3.46 +40 30-11-6
Without Letang 18.4% 2.97 +10 18-13-0

Notice that the Penguins score less and are worse on the power play without Letang. Their goal differential is also significantly higher with Letang in the lineup.

Let's not forget, the dude is still a defenseman. His contributions don't stop on the offensive end of the ice. He's a major part of the defense, too.

The more games he's put under his belt, the better Letang has gotten in the backchecking department.

Obviously they are still a pretty solid team without Letang because of their high-octane offense and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. However, in the playoffs, they're going to be playing against the toughest opponents in the league. Having Letang will be crucial for the Penguins success.

It's interesting because he's often placed behind Crosby, Malkin and perhaps even James Neal and Jordan Staal, when it comes to the most important skater for the Pens. 

It might be one of the biggest misconceptions regarding the Pens this season. 

Letang is huge and the Pens won't get past the first round without him, especially if they play Philadelphia.

Dan Bylsma and the Penguins coaching staff know this and they hope he'll be back and healthy as ever for the playoffs.

 

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