The puck-moving skills of Kris Letang
(58) may be just the thing to spark the Penguins
. (Andrew Dieb/Icon SMI)
By Allan Muir
Kris Letang says he'll be nervous, but not scared, when he returns to action tonight against the Red Wings only 10 weeks after suffering a stroke.
"I'm nervous because I haven't played in a while," the Penguins defenseman said. "But [scared] about my situation, not at all."
Letang has been practicing with Pittsburgh since March 17, but a return to action this season was never a sure thing. It was just over a week ago that he said he was still having good days and bad days. "I can be really dizzy," he said. "Sometimes I have trouble walking, like, in a straight line … I have some vision things. Lights would bother me, stuff like that."
That didn't sound promising, but in a press conference this morning, Penguins GM Ray Shero said that Letang had been cleared by doctors, and that it was the player's call as to when he would return. "He's been bugging me about it for a while," Shero said, adding that hockey didn't cause Letang's stroke and that the team wasn't concerned about the risk of another incident. "He's at no further risk to suffer a stroke playing hockey than going to grocery store."
The timing couldn't be better for the Pens, who host a potential first-round opponent tonight. Pittsburgh has struggled to find consistency in its game heading into the playoffs and Letang's puck-moving ability could unlock the explosive potential of the Penguins' high-powered offense
Because Letang has been skating for less than a month, his conditioning is probably just shy of game-ready. Given a couple of games to get his legs under himself ahead of next week's playoff opener, Letang could be the X-factor that propels this team on a long postseason run.