Flavell: Letang’s play will dictate Penguins’ season

Before diving into this piece, I’d like to take this time to say the couple months without hockey has refueled my desire to write about the Penguins and watch their games again. I’ve missed discussing the team with all of you. It’ll be fun to watch them try to win a third Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Now, let’s get serious.

If the Penguins want to win that third Cup in four seasons, they’re going to need a fully healthy Kris Letang to do so. It’s fair to say that might be paramount in 2018-19′.

Letang, when healthy and playing well, can be a game changer and will a team to victory by himself. If you don’t believe me, go watch the highlights from game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals and tell me you disagree.

Your counter rebuttal may have something to do with the fact Letang didn’t play in the playoffs for the second Cup. This is true but Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby happened. They could’ve gotten away with allowing them to play 2-on-5. Okay, not really but you get the point.

Dare I say this, but Letang and defense partner Brian Dumoulin have the potential to be one of the best defensive pairs in the league. The elder Letang is so dynamic when he’s on. He can move the puck and skate effortlessly. Even when he’s off, he puts up tons of points because he’s just so skilled, he just becomes a defensive train wreck. Letang’s skill in-turn allows Dumoulin to do what he does best and that’s be a stay at home defenseman and shut down your best offensive players. It just works.

General manager Jim Rutherford suggested that he would like to see Letang play about 24 minutes this season instead of 27. This could be seen as a slight that Rutherford doesn’t think Letang is good enough to be that minutes-eating defenseman but I took it the other way.

I think a slight decrease in minutes can keep Letang more fresh. Mathematically speaking, if the Penguins play four games in a week, Letang would play 12 less minutes, essentially half a games worth of minutes. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it would add up over the course of the season saving him for when it really matters.

Personally, now that Letang has had a healthy offseason under his belt and a full training regimen, I think he’s poised for one of his best season’s in a long time. He trained hard and didn’t have a neck surgery or stroke to worry about.

I feel like I speak for everyone when I say we want to see more of this Letang:

And a lot less of this:

Don’t worry, though. If Letang stays healthy this year, I can see a very productive season. I’ll go as far as saying the Penguins will get back to the Finals if he shows up in peak form because he is that important.

PHOTO: Kris Letang takes a shot in a game last season. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

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