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Chris Letang’s Rocky Start: Just a Bad Stretch or a Bad Sign?

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When it comes to struggles over Pittsburgh Penguins“The defense this season is Brian Dumoulin who has had the most heat.

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Considering the way he played and ended the 2021-22 season, it’s no big surprise he struggled. Maybe disappointing if you were hoping to make the leap, but I think we have a feeling he might be down that road at this point in his career.

Nor is he the only veteran defender to get off to a rocky start.

Chris Letang’s early play is a pretty big elephant in the room that we should probably discuss a bit.

When the Penguins embarked on the 2022 off-season, there was a very strong belief among most team observers that Letang should be the priority (this was my belief), not only because he played the most important role and would be hard to replace, but also because he was still A very special player. Getting him back on a long-term deal was a big hit. He takes great care of himself, can still skate very well, and has been coming off one of the best seasons of his career even at 34. He’s still a Norris-caliber defender. There was little reason to believe his career was about to fall off a cliff.

And I still don’t think we’re at that point.

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

Or at least it didn’t produce solid results.

Going into action on Tuesday, Letang is still looking for his first goal of the season, has 8 assists, and finishes last – LAST! – Out of all Penguins defenders in nearly every primary possession category during a 5-on-5 play.

share bid shot? else.

expected target share? else.

Score a chance? else.

High risk scoring opportunity? Fifth of seven.

target share? sixth out of seven, ahead of only Dumoulin.

It is less than 50 percent in all of these categories, except for high risk chances where its share is exactly 50 percent. It all happened while having the highest share of the offensive zone on the team.

Through eye testing, he made some bad puck decisions and didn’t look like the player we’re used to seeing, even last season.

The popular narrative here would be to blame Dumoulin’s struggling and rapidly declining presence as a partner. But even that is not fair to Dumoulin. Letang has spent as much time away from Dumoulin this season as with him, and his numbers away from Dumoulin it was actually worst than they were with Dumoulin.

As bad as these two were together from a goals for and against perspective, they both actually had the best base numbers in terms of chances and expected goals when they were together.

Despite his continued success and public relevance, there has always been a portion of the fanbase who choose to make Letang their No. 1 public enemy in terms of criticism, and it has never matched any meaningful metric (or eye test). But so far in the first 15 games of the season he has played more or less the way his critics think he plays.

This is a little worrying.

I’m not prepared to say this is the beginning of the end for Letang as a top duo defender and impact player, but it is something to watch as the season progresses. Even the best players hit their wall in the end.

If the Penguins are ultimately going to finish in the playoffs and make any kind of meaningful run, they’re going to need Letang to play like the player he was a year ago. Because they don’t have anyone else who can play that role anywhere near that level.

As great as he was, we’ve seen Letang have an occasional rough stretch throughout his career and he always bounces back and gets back into shape. The thing about bad stretches early in the season is that we tend to notice them a lot because there isn’t a great deal of work put around them to disguise them. Bad numbers just hit you in the face and you can’t avoid them.

Hopefully this is all for the penguins.

vote

What is your level of interest in Chris Letang and his play so far this season?

  • 37%

    Just a bad start. Still elite. No worry.

    (183 votes)

  • 49%

    Mild anxiety. It may not be elite, but it’s still pretty good.

    (243 votes)

  • 13%

    Very worried. It may age faster than we expect.

    (68 votes)


494 votes total

Vote now

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