The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the NHL's hottest teams as they take a seven-game winning streak into Friday's home matchup against the L.A. Kings. But the Pens have lost top defenseman Kris Letang perhaps for the rest of December.
NHL teams never say what's truly wrong with an injured player, but Letang is expected to miss the next couple of weeks with a lower-body injury. In Wednesday's 4-3 home overtime win over Boston, Letang played 26 minutes but was slow to get up after getting knocked into the boards during a sequence in the Pittsburgh zone in the second period. He did return to the game.
Letang averages 26:04 of ice time per night, which is seventh in the NHL -- by comparison, Sidney Crosby gets 19:10. Letang has two goals and 17 assists in 25 games, including eight power-play assists. He is crucial on that unit and ranks third on the team with 79 shots overall. So that could influence betting on Penguins NHL totals going forward, although Pittsburgh leads the NHL in scoring.
If there's one bright spot here, it's that the Penguins are used to playing without the 29-year-old as he has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. The Penguins went 4-1 in the five games he missed in October. Letang has played all 82 regular-season games once, in 2010-11. Last season, he was in 71 and had a career-high 67 points, including a career-best 16 goals. In 23 playoffs games in helping lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup, Letang had three goals, 12 assists and was plus-6.
There's obviously no good time for an injury like this, but it's especially rough now because on Friday the Penguins start a schedule of eight games in 17 days. Defenseman Justin Schultz likely replaces Letang on the Penguins' top power-play unit. As for who takes his spot in the lineup, it's not unclear. Steve Oleksy did take Letang's spot on the blue line during Thursday's practice.
Pittsburgh opened as a -200 favorite on NHL picks for Friday against the Kings.