Kris Letang’s bumpy start: Just a bad track or a bad sign?

When it comes to fighting on the Pittsburgh penguins‘Defense this season, it’s Brian Dumoulin who has taken most of the heat.

Given the way his 2021-22 season unfolded and ended, his struggles come as no great surprise. Maybe disappointing if you were hoping for a big upswing, but I think we had a feeling he could be on that path at this stage in his career.

He’s not the only key veteran defender to get off to a rocky start, either.

Kris Letang’s early play is quite a big elephant in the room, which we should probably discuss a bit.

As the Penguins headed into their 2022 offseason, most team watchers were pretty adamant that Letang should have been the priority (that was my belief), not just because he was the most important role and would be the hardest to replace, but also because he was still quite an elite player. Re-signing him to a long-term contract was a huge success. He takes great care of himself, can still skate very well and, even at 34, has had one of the best seasons of his career. He’s still a Norris defender. There was little reason to believe his career was about to fall off a cliff.

And I still don’t think we’re there.

But we also have to address the fact that he hasn’t played well so far this season.

Or at least didn’t produce strong results.

Letang, coming into play on Tuesday, is still looking for his first goal of the season, has just eight assists and is last – LAST! – among all Penguin defenders in pretty much every underlying possession category during 5v5 play.

Share shot attempt? Last.

Expected target percentage? Last.

Share scoring opportunity? Last.

Share a highly dangerous scoring opportunity? Fifth of seven.

share goal? Sixth out of seven, just ahead of Dumoulin.

It is below 50 percent in all of these categories except for Dangerous Odds, where it is exactly 50 percent. All of this happened while also having the highest percentage of offensive zone starts on the team.

According to the eye test, he made some bad puck decisions and just didn’t look like the player we’ve grown accustomed to, even last season.

The popular narrative here would be to blame the struggling and quickly flagging Dumoulin as a partner. But even that isn’t fair to Dumoulin. Letang has spent as much time away from Dumoulin this season as he has spent with him and his numbers away from Dumoulin actually been worse than Dumoulin.

Because as bad as these two were together from a goals for and against perspective, they both actually had their best underlying numbers in terms of odds and expected goals when they were together.

Despite its consistent success and overall prominence, there has always been a segment of the fandom that has chosen to make Letang its #1 public enemy in terms of criticism, and it has never been compared to any meaningful metric (or eye test). . . But so far, in the first 15 games of the season, he’s played how his critics always think he plays.

And it’s a little worrying.

I’m not ready to say this is the beginning of the end for Letang as a top pair defender and striker, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Even the best players hit their wall at some point.

If the Penguins are to get back into the playoffs and put on a run of any significance, they need to make Letang play like the player he was a year ago. Because they don’t have anyone who can play that role anywhere near that level.

As great as he was, we’ve seen Letang have occasional rough patches throughout his career and he always bounces back and gets back to his normal form. The thing about bad tracks early in the season is that we tend to notice them a lot more because they’re not surrounded by a huge amount of work to hide them. The bad numbers just smack you in the face and you can’t avoid them.

Hopefully for the penguins that’s all.

opinion poll

How concerned are you about Kris Letang and his game so far this season?

  • 35%

    Just a bad start. He’s still elite. Do not worry.

    (190 votes)

  • 49%

    Slight concern. He may not be elite, but he’s still good.

    (260 votes)

  • fifteen%

    Very concerned. He might age faster than we expect.

    (80 votes)

A total of 530 votes

vote now

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