Tonight Kris Letang will make his long awaited return at Madison Square Garden, where he last watched his teammates play from one of the boxes alongside Zbynek Michalek back in November. This is the second time the Pens have played the Rangers in the new year, losing on January 6th 3-1 in a home game.
We can certainly look forward to seeing Letang reunited with his stay-at-home D partner Brooks Orpik tonight. His return will greatly help D-corps members Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen lower their ice minutes eventually, as I don’t know that we can expect Letang to return to his usual 25-30 minutes of play right out of the gate. The Pens certainly could use the offensive prowess of Letang at this point in the season when the team desperately needs to put the puck in the back of the net as much as possible to recover ground lost in late December and early January in the standings.
Letang was an early contender for the Norris Trophy this season prior to being sidelined with a concussion and broken nose when Max Pacioretty laid and an elbow to Letang’s face coming across the ice in Montreal on November 26th. Letang returned to the game in overtime to score the game winning goal, but has not played a game since. We can only hope that he doesn’t experience any lingering symptoms and get sidelined again. With the blueliners back at full health, this will hopefully give them an opportunity long term to spread out their ice time and ensure that they are all rested for the playoffs, unlike last season.
Arron Asham will sit again tonight. Head Coach Dan Bylsma has confirmed that in addition to being ill, Asham is experiencing some concussion like symptoms.
Joe Vitale will likely be getting some good ice time tonight and the Pens sure need him. His performance against the Hurricanes on Tuesday was superb. He is without a doubt one of the Pens best hitters and was strong on face-offs wins. His grit and endurance have been an intergral contribution to the team’s overall success this season.
We can also likely expect to see a third D pairing of Engelland and Niskanen. Dangerous pairing. They both have been working hard to put the puck on the net, are good physical players and have been growing more and more comfortable joining rushes.
The season is not lost folks, but the Pens need to find a way to get two points tonight. If they can’t beat top teams, they’re in trouble.
Let’s Go Pens!