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Penguins Notes: Letang’s Touching Moment, Perfect PK Wins Nothing

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Pittsburgh Penguins penalty kill

CRANBERRY — It was a moment in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room that was too perfect for intrusion. With a locker room full of players going about their business and crusty reporters, young Alex Letang, who is 10 years old, sat in his father Kris’s locker stall practicing his tape jobs.

He taped and retaped his blade as Marcus Pettersson, and Jake Guentzel stopped for a chat. They offered some encouragement as he focused intently on wrapping his white tape around the glossy black stick blade.

Then Kris Letang finished practice and entered the room. He and his son sat in the locker stalls, quietly talking and practicing the wraps.

It was a moment for a father and son, especially poignant for a man who recently had a stroke.

Perfect Penguins PK Wins Nothing

The Penguins’ practice featured extended special teams’ work. PP1 vs. PK1 and PP2 vs. PK2.

Though it wasn’t much of a battle, the Penguins’ penalty-killing units won, and they did so convincingly. The power plays failed to set up, did not apply pressure, and didn’t score.

The Penguins PK units pitched a shutout.

“Yep,” said Ryan Poehling with a smile.

However, there was no steak dinner won, not even extra pushups for the losers. And certainly no side bets.

“No, no. You don’t want to bet those guys,” penalty killer Brock McGinn said while nodding toward Letang.

The Pittsburgh Penguins penalty killing unit has risen from near the bottom of the league more than a month ago to tied for third with the Dallas Stars.

The long stretches without allowing a power play goal have boosted confidence. So, too, was the return of Teddy Blueger after missing most of training camp and the start of the season.

But there’s more than that.

Poehling feels more chemistry, easier communication, and confidence with his teammates. McGinn acknowledged the extra aggressiveness, especially on Monday against teammates who comprise one of the hottest power plays in the NHL.

The penalty kill was tight to the puck. They gave no quarter.

“I think if you can not give them as much time as they want, we’re going to make them play that much quicker,” McGinn said. “It’s tougher on them. So I think when we kind of got them on the run, we do a better job forcing turnovers or bobbled pucks, and then we get it done.”

The PK is killing at 83.5%, not quite near the 90% rate they hovered at last season before a late dip, but it’s also a far cry from the 70% rate that hung around them in October.

But on Monday, it was just for bragging rights.

Metro Division Games:

The Penguins’ week was set up for a holiday gift or a lump of coal. With three Metro Division games, the Penguins could surge near the top or slip toward a wild card.

The schedule begans with the Carolina Hurricanes, their first date with the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena since last May’s playoff loss, then Carolina at home before the holiday.

The first leg of the Metro triathlon didn’t go so well. Carolina rallied in the third period for a 3-2 win, ending the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak.

However, something about McGinn’s reaction on Sunday night rang familiar. Without question, the birth of the March of the Penguins in 2016 happened on March 1, 2016, when the Penguins squandered a third period lead to the Washington Capitals in Washington, D.C.

No team likes to lose, but that team wasn’t just mad that they lost. They would have immediately gone back on the ice to play again.

I sensed a little bit of that from McGinn. Since Carolina and the Pittsburgh Penguins tangle again on Friday Thursday, there could be a little more intense.

“We owe them one,” McGinn said Sunday night. “They’re battles, tight-checking games. We’re looking forward to that one.”

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.