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4 Markers from Pens-Oilers; Kris Letang Struggling



Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang
By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Penguins, as a team, played one of their better games of the season. Just as they did last week when the Oilers visited Pittsburgh. The teams match up well and the Penguins, having earned the ire of head coach Mike Sullivan, responded with a 3-2 win.


#1 Conor Sheary makes Sidney Crosby better. Sheary doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I was one of the many who questioned Sheary’s ability away from Sidney Crosby or if he could handle the NHL game. The blunt truth born of numbers and eyes is that Sheary not only plays well on Crosby’s line, he makes Crosby better. The offense clicks at a more productive rate when 43 skates with 87. And it isn’t even close. It’s not Jake Guentzel who makes Crosby better, it’s Sheary.

Last season, the Penguins were nearly a goal per game better with Sheary and Crosby together. And it isn’t just Crosby pulling that wagon. Lock in the 43-87-72 trio, no matter how much Hornqvist frustrates Crosby.

#2 Riley Sheahan has no confidence with the puck. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Sullivan dropped Jake Guentzel to third line left wing, and Phil Kessel to the right in an attempt to find offense from the third line. The trio combined for ZERO shots on goal. 0.00. If Kessel and Guentzel can’t jump start Sheahan, the Penguins need to start looking for other answers.

Excluding the game in Winnipeg, Sheahan has…ONE shot on goal. Uno. Some players can’t find the defensive zone…Sheahan, right now, is afraid of the offensive zone.

#3 Matt Murray went to work this summer. His game looks different. He is no longer “quiet” in the pipes. He is making saves on the move, his glove hand is improved and he is keeping the Penguins in games.

Of course, if the Penguins defense weren’t turnover machines, Murray may go back to the quiet, understated game because he would have less saves and less High Danger Scoring Chances to stop.

#4 Kris Letang is fighting his game unlike any time since the 2013 playoffs. Against Edmonton, Letang served up an Oilers goal by banking a clearing attempt off the referee’s bum.

Unfortunately for Letang, the play rested entirely on him. He had time to skate, he had more time to find an outlet pass, and he had time to not hit the referee with the puck.

A player like Kris Letang, with proven elite ability, will get to play through these struggles. It isn’t an easy road back from EVERYTHING which has befallen the defender. However, when Justin Schultz and Matt Hunwick return to the lineup, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to lower Letang’s ice time. Let him run the top power-play unit to build confidence. And minimize his defensive zone starts–just as the Penguins did with Justin Schultz (and still do, to a smaller degree).

Freebie Observation: The Oilers are struggling because they lack secondary scoring. It’s all McDavid, all the time, and others such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic are riding in the wagon, not pulling it. Edmonton may start to look to spin RNH’s talent for someone who can be more productive.

TV SHOW! Saturday, 11:30am on Pittsburgh’s CW. Set your DVR’s and watch and live tweet with us. #PHN.  We’ll look at Daniel Sprong, the Penguins struggles, other teams around the league struggling, RMU hockey and debate which coach is on the hot seat…


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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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