May 24, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) clears the puck against the Ottawa Senators during the third period in game five of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 6-2 to close out the series. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Letang Looking Like Norris Candidate

 

It is up to Kris Letang to make this is the year of Kris Letang.

With all the usual suspects finally healthy for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the man they call “Tanger,” has a chance to record numbers better than ever before.  And so far, so good.

Through two contests, the Pens top defenseman has picked up a goal and a helper.  Some see that as a moderate start, but the season has just started and the Penguins also played those two games on the road.

As long as the team can stay healthy, Letang himself included, his Norris Trophy chances are realistic.  Even though he has competition with other players around the league (Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, etc), Letang still runs the point on arguably the best power-play in the NHL right now and possesses seemingly more point opportunities on a consistent basis than other competitors.

The 2005 third-round-selection has been a steal for the Pens.  Transforming into a dynamic two-way defenseman, Letang has been more than the organization could have asked for.

Contributing to the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup, Letang is also an All-Star.  Had his season last year not been shortened by injury, Letang would have been right there with Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who led the NHL in points among defenseman.  And the year before that, Letang finished in the top-10 in points among d-men with Sidney Crosby being sidelined half of that season.

But now that the Captain is back for Pittsburgh, there is a growing feeling that Letang will finally flourish authoritatively.  The past couple seasons were once thought by the organization to be Letang’s year to break out convincingly, but due to various issues, those predictions were put to a halt.

However, the question as to whether or not Letang reigns as the best defenseman in the league is still debatable.  Considering he shoots on goals alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and now James Neal, he has a huge advantage over other defenseman.  So while his statistics may say he’s the best, others might suggest he would have a much tougher time racking up points if he was with another team.

There’s always going to be “what-ifs,” but he’s with the Penguins and that’s the way it is.

He may have fewer points if he was on another squad, but critics can’t deny the fact that Letang is a tough cookie.  When it comes to defending, Letang is a physical opponent.  And his swift skating ability allows him to escape chaotic situations and create a lot of scoring opportunities.

He also does a good job specifically on the penalty kill.  One thing Letang doesn’t really get credit for is his assertiveness in blocking a shot.  Most of the time, when the Pens have excelled on defense, it’s because Letang has led with his controlling play.

Kris Letang is good because of himself.  Yes, his team provides that extra spark, but he ultimately is the anchor to their offensive juggernaut.  Without him, the team overall struggles.

Letang now plays tonight at home, in the CONSOL Energy Center opener versus a Toronto team that’s still trying to find its permanent goaltender.  And while he trails St. Louis Blues Kevin Shattenkirk in points among NHL defenseman–after tonight–he might be even with him.

Keep a close eye on Kris Letang this year and watch the Pens tonight as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs for their home opener at 7 p.m.

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