Before you pull out your pitchforks, let's acknowledge a few things first.
Kris Letang is Still EliteKris Letang is the top defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and has been inarguably since Sergei Gonchar handed over the reigns in the 2009-2010 season. Kris Letang averaged over 28 minutes per game during the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs and made a strong case for Conn Smythe.
But, he must be removed from the power play.
Use Kris Letang's TOI More WiselyI know this sounds crazy. But, there's very good reason for this. We must conserve Kris Letang for pivotal moments where he is irreplaceable, like penalty kills. Kris Letang is the lifeblood of the Penguins defensive core, and if the team has any chance at making a deep run they must keep him healthy and use his minutes wisely.
Although Kris Letang has 13 power play points (2 G, 12 A) this season through 41 games played, Justin Schultz has 13 power play points (1 G, 12 A) with much less top-unit time. Kris Letang may have more points overall, but he has also played in many more situations on the top-unit than Justin Schultz. The downgrade between the Letang and Schultz on the top power play unit is minimized by the cast and crew around them.
Justin Schultz can easily cover this time for the Penguins, and allow Kris Letang to rest. With the addition of Mark Streit, the Penguins can attempt to utilize Streit on the second power play unit during the average 3.29 power plays per game. This, in effect, can provide Kris Letang with a little over 6 minutes of rest per game.
Kris Letang has no peers on the penalty kill.Let's be totally honest. The team has no comparable replacement for Kris Letang on the penalty kill. In 5 on 5 situations, Kris Letang is undoubtedly in the matchup against any competitor's top unit. There's no changing that. Without Letang, the penalty kill lacks speed and positioning required to make a deep playoff run. Without Letang against the competitor's top pairing, our team will expose Murray (or Fleury) to many more shots per game, and higher quality shots. But with the rest gained from sitting during the power play, the Penguins may actually see a rise in the play of Kris Letang during those pivotal moments.
Kris Letang has averaged over 25 minutes per game since the 2014-2015 season. He's also missed a lot of games this season. Kris Letang has had an injury history that hasn't quite earned him the Beau Bennett trophy, but he's not far off. The Penguins can use the power play unit to develop Justin Schultz offensively and provide a true test of his future potential as we approach his re-signing this off-season. Additionally, keeping Letang off of the power play would help maximize the use of their rental Mark Streit to give Kris Letang time to recover during games.
A healthier, more rested Kris Letang is worth more than the trivial gain between him and Justin Schultz on the top power play unit.Part of Kris Letang's history of injuries may or may not be from overuse, but better utilizing him may lead to less downtime and it's an experiment that would be worthwhile to test while the Penguins have position in the standings to do so. The small gain that may be realized during the power play may be having a larger effect on Kris Letang's total game than we may realize.
Now is the time for the coaching staff to experiment and specialize Letang in 5 on 5 and penalty kill situations. If they don't take the risk now, they may lose the best opportunity they have for experiment before the Penguins take their chance at repeating as Stanley Cup Champions this postseason.