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Should Penguins Keep Matheson-Letang Together? The Twist…

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NHL trade deadline, Mike Matheson, Pittsburgh Penguins

One bad play and change looks terrible. A moment of indecision and uncertainty led to a Nashville Predators goal while two Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen whiffed on the same puck in deference to each other. Change brings the unknown, and perceptions form quickly.

But should Kris Letang and Mike Matheson remain paired together?

The answer isn’t as easy as you think, and there was good reason head coach Mike Sullivan, and presumably, assistant coach Todd Reirden went with the pairing beyond Brian Dumoulin’s one-game illness. If you’re already formulating a wicked comment and opinion, stop now.

The simple truth is Matheson-Letang has nearly fantastic advanced stats together. While the sample size is significantly smaller, the pair are miles ahead of Brian Dumoulin and Letang, the Penguins top defensive pairing for several seasons running.

“I know he’s going to be in the rush. Maybe sometimes I’ll stay back, so that’s probably the only thing that is going to change because he’s such a great skater that he can join the rush in any moment,” Letang said on Saturday. “And maybe sometimes you have to read it that he’s going to be ahead. With Dumo, I’m mostly in the rush, but nothing changes. I play the same way. Whether it’s Dumo or Matty.”

The Matheson-Letang pair had a momentary breakdown on Tuesday night as a puck slid between them at the offensive blue line. Neither was quite sure if the other would take it since they both wanted it and knew the other wanted it, too.

“…it’s just one of those fluky plays. For me, that’s hockey…,” Sullivan said.

For context, the Dumoulin-Letang pair has played about 793 minutes this season. The Matheson-Letang pairing played only 175 minutes.

We’ll start simple and denote the pairing by the different defender. So, Matheson = Matheson-Letang. Dumoulin = Dumoulin-Letang. Stick tap to NaturalStatTrick.com for the numbers.

Basic Stats:

Corsi: Matheson (53.3%). Dumoulin (50.23%).

Shots: Matheson(53.69%). Dumoulin (51.05%).

Goal Differential: Matheson (14-5, 73.68%). Dumoulin (34-30, 53.13%).

The Matheson-Letang goal differential is extraordinary at over 73%. That can and should get your attention. If it didn’t, I added the bold lettering. The numbers likely didn’t escape Sullivan’s eyes.

Digging Deeper:

Expected Goals For (xGF): Matheson (53.86%). Dumoulin (50.94%).

Scoring Chances: Matheson (55.68%). Dumoulin (51.25%).

High-Danger Chances: Matheson (51.28%). Dumoulin (49.14%)

Seeing the high-danger chances drop is a concerning sign for the Pittsburgh Penguins in general, but seeing Dumoulin-Letang underwater is even more concerning. Here’s the real kicker:

High-Danger Goals: Matheson (8-3, 72.73%). Dumoulin (19-21, 47.50%).

Color me as surprised as you probably are. Despite goalie Tristan Jarry’s above-water numbers and stellar season, Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin are getting burned on high-danger chances and goals.

And one of my favorite stats to judge defensemen:

One-Ice SV%: Matheson (.948). Dumoulin (.9284).

How are we feeling so far? There is a slight difference in offensive zone starts. Matheson-Letang has started on the fun side 61% of the time. Dumoulin-Letang are at 55%.

So, with all of the above, it appears the Matheson-Letang pairing is indeed superior to Dumoulin-Letang. Certainly, the dynamic offensive power and puck possession makes it more difficult for opponents to defend or get the puck. It also appears in the growing sample size that the pairing with Matheson finishes more chances, too.

That’s likely because of Matheson’s ability to skate deep into the zone and force opponents to defend him. Also, most teams don’t defend BOTH defensemen on the rush. The Penguins’ uncovered option can pick his spot and go.

Dumoulin is far more traditional, and while I think he has more offense to give, he simplifies his game and cedes the fun stuff to Letang.

“We always talk about possibilities, whether it be defense pairs or line combinations…nothing is ever off the table,” Sullivan said last weekend. “Mike and Tanger have a real offensive component to their game, but they’re both dynamic skaters, and they defend well. If we choose to go with the (Dumoulin-Letang) pairing, we know what that looks like. We know what we’re getting. It’s the same thing with Mike…”

The Pittsburgh Penguins won two of three games with the pairing and dominated scoring chances against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night despite the 4-1 loss that could have been much closer if not for Nashville goalie Juuse Saros.

From the above 700 words, there seems no reason to break up Matheson-Letang, right?

In 120 minutes together, the Dumoulin-Marino pair has a 38% Corsi and 40% scoring chance rate, and…it just gets worse from there.

So, perhaps Sullivan is setting the table for something to change in the next week? Otherwise, the absence of a second pairing will negate the benefits of Matheson on the top pairing.

But it’s something to consider should things change, now or in the summer.

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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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Mike
Mike
2 months ago

The major issue is that Dumoulin is dragging down whoever he’s with. I wouldn’t be 100 percent shocked to see him dealt. He’s basically been awful since the leg injury last year.

Wasnt
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike

I think Dumo just got used to letting Letang take the chances then staying back to cover his screw ups. He does seem slower since the injury and really hesitates bad if he takes a shot.

Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
2 months ago

Too much with the analytics. Throw Corsi aside. Watch the game. 2on 1s and breakaways are an issue every time that LeTang is on the ice. His defensive liability is no longer offset by his offensive upside .If The Penguins had forwards that could score the D could stay back and not join the O zone push all the time.

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

Yes too much with the analytics, just watch the frigging game.

DaGama
DaGama
1 month ago

Hallelujah!

RYAN
RYAN
1 month ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

I love how the 100% stone cold truth gets down votes. Letangs brain is still 15 years behind his legs.

MrNails
MrNails
1 month ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

Congratulations on your Worst Take award.

Tom
Tom
2 months ago

Put Tanger in the press box.
Let the defense play defense, after a couple weeks reevaluate the defense, turnovers, scoring chances….

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
2 months ago

I think the common denominator here is that whoever Letang is with, that pair is better. It just goes to show how important he is to this team. My preference would be for Matheson and Letang to be split up in order to spread out the offense from the blue line. I never like all the eggs in one basket.

Jason.C
Jason.C
2 months ago

Issue is Letang for all the good he can bring he takes way to many high danger risks resulting to turnovers his sloppy play is happening more than the good things he does at times.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason.C

All the best do that, even Crosby. Mistakes happen.

RYAN
RYAN
1 month ago

It’s different when you’re notorious around the league for doing it

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

This team doesn’t need to make a deal. It needs to make a BIG deal. Otherwise, I’m out until HexBurke prove they can do their jobs. I refuse to watch the same team with the same result while Hextell prepares for 2025 and Burke schmoozes the media to steal paychecks.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
D1VE is Dumb
D1VE is Dumb
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Bye Felicia!

RYAN
RYAN
1 month ago
Reply to  D1VE is Dumb

He’s right. Gonna have to make a trade for someone other than Jeff carter (hextall never has in season)…

What’s mike Richards doing?

celilo
1 month ago

Keep them together some of the time. It depends on the matchups and what you want to achieve from the pairing.

I’ve felt for a long time little Letang would make a better winger than a defenseman. Maybe too late for a position change, but I’d love to see the Letang set loose offensively.

Last edited 1 month ago by celilo
Lars Nelson
Lars Nelson
1 month ago

Letang is the 6th best defenseman in the league in points. He is a +18. https://www.tsn.ca/nhl/statistics He is worth every penny and should not be traded because he can not be replaced. The question is this: Can Matheson-Letang with Crosby-Geutzel-Rust outscore an opponent’s whole team because man for man they are vastly superior? Or can a team put out a line and shut them down in the playoffs? A team has to have secondary scoring. I would go with the line above and try to support the other lines with these players at times by double shifting. Maybe we really… Read more »

Phil
Phil
1 month ago

It’s really sad when people in this fan base say there done. This team is going to make the playoffs for the 14th straight season. Really? What do you want? 3 Stanley cups in that period management has kept the team playoff competitive with great value moves. And anyone who’s complaining about kris letang right now does not know anything about hockey. He cannot be replaced without him everything will crumble. Hes not replaceable. Hes still an unbelievable RHD at 34 and still logging heavy ice time 25min. He has never been appreciated. And it’s really sad crosby, malkin and… Read more »

Kevin Alexander
Kevin Alexander
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Well said Phil. I agree with you completely. As a lifelong Pens fan I have to say, some of our fans really do piss me off with that crap. We are incredibly fortunate to simply have a guy like Sidney Crosby. And then to also have elite level talents like Kris Letang AND Geno Malkin on top of that is truly an amazing blessing from God himself. And then to have them for as long as we’ve had them is truly, incredibly rare and should absolutely be cherished. Just goes to show that people will find reasons to bitch and… Read more »

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