Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang grew a little prickly Thursday when the topic turned to his play in the first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
Letang – as with other Penguins – made some costly decisions and turnovers during the four-game sweep that ended Tuesday night.
“So, what are you asking? You don’t want me to make mistakes?” Letang said when he met with a large group of reporters on locker clean-out day at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“I’ll try that. Next year I’ll try to make no mistakes at all.”
Letang, a highly skilled two-way defenseman, plays with some high-risk, high-reward aspect to his game. So the question reframed to ask if he would consider playing a little more conservatively next season.
“That’s the thing,” he said. “But maybe next year you’re going to say, ‘Hey, we have Kris in our lineup. He doesn’t do anything offensively.’ So now you’re going to rip me apart because I don’t produce anything.
“I totally assume sometimes I make mistakes. I wish I could take those back. At the end of the day, yeah, I wish I could have done something else at different times, but I don’t think the question is to change my whole game. I’m not going to change three plays in my whole year for the type of game I play.”
Letang, who turns 32 April 24, had a strong season in 2018-19, with 16 goals, 56 points. That was a rebound from the season before, when he admittedly struggled coming off neck disk surgery in spring 2017.
But things derailed some when Letang sustained what is believed to be a neck injury in the Feb. 23 outdoor game against Philadelphia that kept him out for two separate stretches of games.
“Personally, I think it was a pretty down moment in my year when I got that injury,” Letang said, although he added that he was healthy down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Asked about rebounding again next season, this time from the first-round playoff exit, Letang said, “Obviously, I’m not going into surgery right now, so that’s a good thing. I’m just going to go back and try to improve my game by training and getting better in certain areas. That’s how I approach every summer, trying to fix little things and trying to improve them.”
He expects the same from the whole of the team after a season with good and bad stretches.
“I think you learn from everything. You win or you lose, there’s always something to be learned,” Letang said. “It was an up-and-down season. It was not a smooth ride. But we’re pretty disappointed with the end result.”
Despite demand for personnel and philosophy changes from many quarters, Letang still has great confidence in the Penguins’ core group.
“Yes. No doubt about it,” he said. “We have guys who are still hungry for more. When we have a guy like Sid (Crosby, the team captain) that wants to lead our team to more championships, we know we have a chance every year.”
So no big changes, in his view?
“There are some years that go like this,” he said. “It’s never going to be perfect. We were not hitting strides at the end of the year like we did in the past. You cannot change a million guys. We just have to be better as individuals, finding our roles throughout the lineup and make our team better. Sometimes it goes like that.”