STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang needs to rein in his emotions for Game 2
Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang took some undisciplined penalties in Game 1 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Reuters)
Kris Letang is a veteran of 81 Stanley Cup playoff games.
With that kind of experience, the Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman should have a better handle on his emotions.
Letang was tested by the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal and didn’t like it, as he sticked Jackets forward Boone Jenner in the gut to take a slashing penalty and later was assessed an interference minor deep in the defensive zone that wasn’t necessary.
“I think Kris is a guy who is targeted,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on Thursday. “There are certain players you are looking to put a dent on, go after with a forecheck and be physical on, and Kris is one of those guys on our team.
“I didn’t like the response from Kris on the penalty he took on Jenner. That’s something he has to be better at and it’s something we need to be better at as a group.”
It’s playoff hockey. There’s going to be an extra ounce of sweat in every check finished. It’s one reason that series get nastier as they progress. Even the Penguins’ motto for the playoffs — “Buckle Up Baby!” — hints at the physical nature of the post-season.
Perhaps one game was enough for Letang, who played in the Penguins’ final three games of the regular season after recovering from a stroke, to get the retaliatory stuff out of his system. He also was guilty of committing a turnover on a shorthanded goal by Derek MacKenzie.
Of course, whether it’s Letang and the other Penguins defencemen looking over their shoulders on the Columbus forecheck or Sidney Crosby seeing Brandon Dubinsky each time he goes over the boards, the take-no-prisoners attitude won’t subside.
Dubinsky — who led the Jackets with nine hits in Game 1 — welcomes the idea of trying to keep Crosby, who had an assist and was minus-2 in the Penguins’ 4-3 victory, on edge.
“You got to do whatever you can to try to find an edge, try to find a win,” Dubinsky said. “They have some great players over there and some of the best in the world. You have to do your best to make it tough on them. As a team, I think we’ll continue to get better at doing that.”
The Jackets nearly pulled off an opening-game upset without two of their more effective forwards, R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. There’s a possibility Umberger (upper body) will return for Game 2, while Foligno (knee) could play in Game 3 on Monday. “If it was up to me, I would have played last night,” Umberger told reporters in Columbus. “Anybody who knows me knows how badly I want to be out there.” ... Foligno said he is “getting close.” Both Umberger and Foligno scored 18 goals for the Blue Jackets during the regular season, making their respective absences not easy to absorb ... Bylsma tinkered with his lines in the opener, and rookie Brian Gibbons — who had some shifts with Crosby and Chris Kunitz on Pittsburgh’s top line — should expect more of that in Game 2. “Flat-out, straight-away speed, I don’t know where Brian would rank in the league, but I think he is the fastest guy on our team,” Bylsma said. “Sid is a player who likes and needs his linemates to force the other team with their speed. Sid is able to read off that. It’s something he has always wanted on his wings.” ... No one would argue the Penguins were at their best in Game 1, and Crosby had an idea of how he and his club can play to their talents with more consistency. “Winning one-on-one battles,” Crosby said. “We have to execute a little better coming out of our end and make sure we don’t allow them to make easy plays in our end.”
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Crosby’s assist in Game 1 was his 106th career point in the playoffs, tying him with Kevin Stevens for third on the Penguins’ career playoff list. Crosby has a ways to go before he catches Jaromir Jagr, who is second with 147 points, and Mario Lemieux, who holds the franchise record with 172 playoff points ... That the Penguins gradually took over in the series opener could be tracked in the faceoff circle. The Jackets won 16 of 23 faceoffs in the first period, but the Penguins won 21 of 31 in the second and 12 of 17 in the third. “One thing we talked about and needed to do — and we were better with as the game went on — was our defencemen and wingers helping and jumping in on the drop of the puck,” Bylsma said. “We got better there, we recovered.” This was Columbus coach Todd Richards’ take: “It’s the mentality. It’s the first battle of the shift. If you were to take a puck and have two guys stand 10 feet away and you throw the puck in the corner and said, ‘Okay, go get it,’ there would be a pretty good battle to get that puck. You have to have that same mentality going in for faceoffs.” ... The Penguins will practise on Friday after taking Thursday off. With the two-day break between games, the Blue Jackets made the short flight to Columbus after Game 1 to prepare at home for Game 2, which goes Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center.