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Who, Us Worry? Letang Insists ‘We’re Confident in Group We Have’



Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Penguins game

The Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang acknowledged, have some problems.

That’s really not much of an admission, considering that he was discussing a team that is on a 0-6-1 freefall through the standings.

But while Letang didn’t detail any specific failings in the wake of their 3-2 loss to Seattle Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena, he was adamant that something that seems like an almost-inevitable by-product of such an extended slump — a crisis of confidence — is not an issue for them.

“We’re confident in the group we have,” he said. “We’re not getting the result because there are some areas where we have to be better. The confidence is there. It just (stinks) to not win right now.”

They haven’t done that since a 6-3 victory Oct. 22 in Columbus, where they made their first stop on a five-game road trip.

Since that win over the Blue Jackets, the only point they’ve earned came in a 6-5 overtime loss to Boston last Monday.

“Right now, the wins are not easy to come by,” Letang said. “Sometimes in hockey, you deserve some. And some, you don’t deserve. Right now, it seems like we’re not getting any. So we have to regroup and just grind it and eventually, we’ll get out of it.”

When they manage to do that could determine whether their 16-year run of playoff appearances remains intact next spring. Their 4-6-2 record translates to 10 points, a total that’s good for seventh place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.

Only the top three finishers in the Metro and Atlantic Division are guaranteed playoff berths, with the final two Eastern spots going to wild-card qualifiers.

While the points gap between the Pittsburgh Penguins and teams currently in the playoff field is not great, making up ground gets increasingly difficult with every opponent a club must overtake in the standings. And there are lots of them ahead of the Penguins at the moment.

Part of the Penguins’ problems stem from disappointing special-teams play. Their power play, which was 0-for-3 against Seattle, has not produced to its potential, and their penalty-killing has ranked among the league’s worst, although it was solid against the Kraken.

“Our play, 5-on-5, in the last few games has been good,” Letang said. “It’s just little breakdowns here and there that happen to cost a game.”

He didn’t offer any examples, but leaving Brandon Tanev largely unchecked in front of the net with little more than 3 1/2 minutes to go in regulation, allowing him to score what became the game-winning goal, would seem to qualify.

“We have to be better and clean up the little mistakes that we do here and there,” Letang said.

While Letang seemed adamant that the Penguins’ belief in themselves has not been shaken, Mike Sullivan didn’t dispute that it can happen when a team is struggling.

“When you go through a challenging time, like we are, it’s not always easy to make sure you play a confident game and you play an assertive game,” he said.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster that has gone through this slump is largely the same as the one that started the season 4-0-1, so a case could be made that a major change in personnel isn’t necessary, that the guys already on the payroll can turn things around while the season still can be salvaged.

“We have to dig our way out of it,” Sullivan said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”