The Importance Of Kris Letang

Kris Letang was injured during the Pittsburgh Penguins game in Montreal on November 26, 2011. He went on to score the winning goal that night, but he hasn't played a hockey game since. After all of the games were played on November 26, the Penguins were leading the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL in points with 32. They had a 14-6-4 record overall and 6-3-1 record in their last ten.

Since that game they've been 7-8-0. On November 26, the Pens had scored 77 goals and allowed 59. Since then they've scored 45 goals and allowed 44. That's an an average of 3.208 goals for and 2.458 goals against in the 24 games prior to Letang's injury. The team has scored an average of 3 goals and allowed an average of 2.933 goals in the 15 games since Letang's injury.

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Obviously there are other factors at play here as well. Letang isn't the only Pittsburgh Penguin to suffer an injury during the stretch mentioned above, but the differences in how the team has performed with Letang and while missing Letang for an extended amount of time is worth noting.

Kris Letang has three goals and 16 assists in 22 games this season. He was suspended for two games earlier in the year. The Penguins won those two games while he was suspended, but perhaps having him out for an extended period of time is starting to hurt the team. Letang played an average of 26.10 per game before he was injured. That's still leading the team. Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek are second through fourth on the team in terms of average ice time. The fact that Michalek has missed an extended amount of time as well just makes this whole situation worse for the Penguins. Add in the Martin injury and you can see why the Penguins are having trouble right now.

In the stretch between November 27 and December 22 where both Letang and Michalek were out of the line up, the Penguins had a 5-6 record. Clearly the injuries to the blue line are hurting the team.

Letang skated Friday for the first time since the game in Montreal, but it's not known when he will return to practice. The severity of the injury makes you wonder why he was allowed to return to the Montreal game at all. According to Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib, "Letang was sent to the NHL's new 'quiet room' in Montreal, then cleared to return to the same game."

It looks like the Penguins followed league protocol that night, but that didn't prevent Letang from being on the shelf for a long period of time. As Kovacevic says, it "doesn't take a medical degree to see these methods aren't enough."

Letang played in all 82 games for the Penguins last year and the team made the playoffs despite injuries to several other players. Now, with Letang out, can the team do the same?

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