(PHN) — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang did not participate in the Penguins morning skate Thursday at Barclays Center in New York. The Penguins face the New York Islanders Thursday night at 7 p.m. and will do so without Letang. Head coach Mike Sullivan announced after the skate that Letang would not play Thursday due to a lower body injury.
“He continues to be evaluated, but he will not play tonight,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins coach was also asked about Letang’s availability for Saturday.
“I don’t have an answer for you. It’s probably not a probability but I don’t have a definitive answer,” said Sullivan.
This season, Letang has been on top of his game, despite the depleted forwards crew in front of him. In 15 games, Letang has 12 points (4g, 8a), is a plus-four and has 55 shots on goal. Sullivan recently moved Letang from the point on the Penguins second power-play unit to the right-wing wall position. PHN spoke with Letang about that change and the different mindset needed to be successful. (Read it here).
The Penguins top defenseman suffered the injury early in the third period Monday in Boston. Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 Boston Bruins defenseman leveled Letang with an open-ice body check. Letang played one more shift then did not finish the game.
The Penguins are 0-1-1 in their last two games despite dramatically outshooting and out-chancing opponents. They lost to Edmonton last Saturday 2-1 in OT and 6-4 in Boston on Monday.
Defenseman Juuso Riikola figures to be in the lineup during Letang’s absence. Riikola has played four games this season, including three as a forward when the Penguins did not have enough reserves due to injury. The only game he played as a blueliner was following the trade of defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Riikkola played the left side with rookie John Marino.
Last season, Riikola played 39 games, mostly on the right side before the Penguins sent him down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL in the second half of the season. The 25-year-old is in his second season in North America after playing professionally in Finland and not being selected in the NHL Draft. The Penguins signed Riikola as an undrafted free agent before last season.
It appears the Penguins will flip defenseman Jack Johnson to the right side and let the left-handed Riikola play on Johnson’s left.
Sullivan was unsure if Kris Letang could play Saturday against New Jersey.