Seemingly lost in all of the concussion talk involving Sidney Crosby is the recovery process of Kris Letang who has missed 20 games due to a concussion.
Now, it appears #58 is ready to make his highly anticipated return to the Penguins. Multiple sources have confirmed that Pens GM Ray Shero has openly stated that Kris Letang has been cleared to play and will undergo a few practices before possibly returning as soon as this week. While Sidney Crosby remains the obvious top story, maybe the the focus should be on Letang. After all, the Penguins have proven that they can win without Crosby (at least in the regular season) as long as they have Staal, Malkin and Fleury.
Since Letang's injury, the Penguins are 9-11-0 and have moved from the top seed in the East to the eighth seed. The reason? Obviously the injuries to Michalek, Staal and Crosby haven't helped, but the biggest problem is the lack of a playmaker on the blue line. Statistically, it hasn't been close. Despite playing in 20 less games, Kris Letang still leads all Penguins defensemen in points. While Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin are capable of being puck moving defensemen, neither of them possess the shooting ability nor the creativity in the offensive zone. Martin, especially, has allowed too many odd-man rushes due to his ill-timed and poorly executed pinches on the offensive side.
And then there's Brooks Orpik who BADLY misses Kris Letang, at times. Orpik has recently picked up his hitting which is the basis of his defensive ability. However, it has become noticeable that he has been uncomfortable moving the puck out of his own zone. With a system that functions on puck control, Orpik needs Kris Letang, a player he has been paired with in the past.
Overall, the Penguins looked to be trending upward. With the news of Kris Letang on the cusp of returning, along with Sidney Crosby visitng Dr. Carrick to relieve his dizziness, the Pens could get on a streak before going on a run after the trade deadline. While it is still too early to predict if, much less when, Sidney Crosby will return, it looks as though Penguins fans will have Kris Letang back on the Penguins' blue line sooner rather than later.