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Penguins' Kris Letang Fills Important Role

In the absence of superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins haven't had a whole lot of good things going for them. One of them, though, has been defenseman Kris Letang. With eight goals and 38 assists on the campaign, the 23-year-old is tied for third in the NHL in scoring for a defenseman and trails leader Keith Yandle of Phoenix by only eight points.

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With Crosby and Malking missing, Letang has become the focus of the Penguins' struggling powerplay. His production has slipped as the powerplay as slipped (he scored only five points in February), but with James Neal and Alexei Kovalev jumping on the unit following two trades, it should shift some of the burden away from him.

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As Dejan Kovacevic writes today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, now Letang can focus on working withing the team's system again.

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The real separator is that time-and-space factor: Once Letang gets the puck, rather than just flicking it off the glass or icing it, he will pause, look around and pass it to a forward. The Penguins' emphasis this season, following the acquisition of other mobile defensemen such as Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, has been on exactly this type of rapid-fire breakout.

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"It's been a challenge, but I enjoy it," Letang said. "This year, I've been put in a lot of positions where I have to be responsible, always aware who I'm playing against. I've always put the defense first, though."

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Letang's new challenge will be filling the void of the traded Alex Goligoski and injured Brooks Orpik.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.