Is Ian Cole Still On the Top Pairing Dot Com by @wutendeskind - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Is Ian Cole Still On the Top Pairing Dot Com by @wutendeskind

We just don’t know. But we have reason to hope not.

From a report by Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, tonight’s defense pairings aren’t set in stone. But if the end of the Wednesday night’s win against the Canadiens is any indication, the Penguins could reunite Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, a return to the top pairing many expected when training camp began in September. 

Apart, it’s safe to say that Letang and Maatta have both been struggling.

When paired with Ian Cole, who Letang has played over 235 of his 273 even strength minutes with, the duo has posted a disappointing 45.6% CF%, which is on pace to be Letang’s worst season of his career. And with a corsi against per 60 of 61.5, this season is also on pace to be Letang’s worst season defensively. Ever.

Olli Maatta has also struggled with his partner, Rob Scuderi. To date, the pairing has posted a 46.6% CF%, indicating that they’re not controlling play together very well at all. Interestingly, with a caveat for small sample size, both Maatta and Scuderi have posted higher possession numbers when apart, which might provide further evidence in favor of separating the duo.  

More importantly, the entirety of both Maatta and Letang’s careers prior to this season indicate that they can play better than they are now. This is good news for the Penguins; with Letang and Maatta as two of the most talented defensemen in their system, the Penguins need their best players consistently performing well to have long-term success.

In their careers, Letang and Maatta have played over 365 minutes together, which is enough time for us to make some hopeful, but cautious, predictions about how they might fare together this year. Together, Letang and Maatta have been good for a 53.1% CF%, which would be a definite improvement for both players. And while we would expect a pairing that includes Letang to be able to contribute offensively, Letang and Maatta also suppress shots together reasonably well. To date, Maatta and Letang have a CA60 of 52.9, which is markedly better than either has managed this year (and better than the team has performed on the whole).

Even accounting for potential system and personnel changes this year, if Letang and Maatta can perform better together than they’ve been doing apart, and continue some of the success they’ve seen together in the past, that helps the Penguins.

The biggest takeaway, for me, is that even if Letang and Maatta struggle together early on, the coaching staff shouldn’t be too quick to separate them again. The Pens have been slow to change the defense pairings at all; Letang has only played 38 minutes away from Ian Cole all season. Maatta and Letang should be given the chance that Letang and Cole were given to establish themselves. Given that this year is looking like a career-worst for Letang—a defenseman that has previously been nominated for the Norris trophy—we know what Letang looks like at his best and that this is far from it. At the same time, Maatta has struggled to return to form since shoulder surgery that ended his 2014-2015 season.

(gif by jackeichs @ tumblr)

We know that the Penguins need both Letang and Maatta to be better, and they have shown us in the past that they can be. Here’s to hoping that they find consistency and success together.

(Data courtesy of War on Ice and Hockey Analysis.)

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