Kris Letang underwent tests and blood work to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup on Saturday, but the Penguins received the figurative shot in the arm as they squashed the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
Letang was the story in Pittsburgh and around the NHL as he re-entered the lineup just 12 days after suffering a stroke.
On the ice, he led the Penguins in ice time with 22:14.
“When I started feeling better, I ramped up the intensity in practice,” said Letang. “There were a couple of things we had to wait on, like blood tests, stuff like that, just to make sure I could go into contact and everything. So once I was cleared, I got the green light.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins largely controlled play on Saturday. The Sabres had 38 shots, but the NaturalStatTrick.com heat map showed they failed to get chances near the net.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had three points, including two goals. He also tied Jason Zucker for the team lead with four shots.
Not only was Letang the story, but Crosby’s continued surge is starting to draw some Hart Trophy talk. Head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t shy away from it.
“He has to be in the conversation, in my opinion. He’s the leading goal scorer in the league, five-on-five,” Sullivan said. “He’s got such a mature game. He plays on both sides of the puck. We use him defensively as much as we use him offensively. I think he’s the most complete player in the game.”
Sullivan’s stats are partially correct. Crosby trails Jason Robertson in 5v5 goals (17-16) but leads the league in even-strength points (33).
Crosby kept the focus on Letang’s remarkable comeback.
“You never know with him. He’s looking good for going what he’s going through,” Crosby said. “He’s done similar things, but nothing like this. I mean, he’s found a way, again, to surprise us all.”
DeSmith has played well this season but has been the recipient of bad scheduling. He’s played the second of back-to-back nights, and the Penguins have not been very good in the second night. Before Saturday, they were 1-4-1, despite some good goaltending from DeSmith.
Before the game, his save percentage was .908. Afterward, it jumped to a healthy .916.
“I’ve been happy with the vast majority of my play this year. Just being happy when I can get in there and help the team win,” said DeSmith. “I think the team’s come a long way. In the past month and a half, I think we’re really hitting our stride, playing the right way, and it’s paying off for us.”
A little side note — Sometimes reporters compare notes or advance storylines.
On Friday, I asked Tristan Jarry if he peeked where Tage Thompson was on the ice, especially on the power play. I got a short answer.
“No, whoever is shooting.”
Someone else posed the same query to DeSmith:
“Yeah, definitely. It’s no secret what he’s doing in this league. I think he’s got one of the best shots in the league. (That’s) really dangerous as a goalie. So you have to be extra careful when he’s on the ice.”