Two of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ longtime stars are garnering newfound attention — for different reasons — heading into their game Monday night against the visiting Dallas Stars.
For top defenseman Kris Letang, it is a remarkable recovery from his second stroke of his career. He returned to the lineup just 12 days after a stroke in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He led the Penguins with 22:14 of ice time.
“He’s looking good after what he’s gone through,” Pittsburgh team captain Sidney Crosby said. “He’s found a way to surprise us all and had a great game.”
Letang, 35, had no points but dished out seven hits, blocked three shots and quarterbacked the top power-play unit.
“My timing needs to get a little bit better, but my legs were there,” Letang said. Team medical staff said he was not taking a risk by returning to play.
In the meantime, Crosby, also 35, is starting to garner early attention for what would be his third Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He collected two goals and an assist on Saturday to boost his team-leading totals in goals (17), assists (21) and points (38).
Crosby leads the NHL in even-strength points (31) entering play on Sunday.
“He has to be in the conversation (for the Hart),” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.
“I think he’s the most complete player in the game, if you ask me (because of) his ability to bring and generate so much offense, but also just his willingness and commitment to defend.”
The Penguins have won five straight and are 10-1-1 in their past 12 games.
Dallas is coming off a 3-2 overtime win Saturday against Detroit. The Stars just went 3-1-1 on a homestand and are kicking off five-game road trip, all against Metropolitan Division clubs.
“Tough trip,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said.
The Stars have quite an emerging star of their own.
Jason Robertson drew attention with a recent 18-game point streak. In his third full season, he ranks near the top of the league with 42 points, including 23 goals.
Robertson went two games without a point after the streak but was back on the scoresheet Saturday with an assist.
Another Dallas player grabbed some attention Saturday. Defenseman Nils Lundkvist had been a healthy scratch for three games before coming back in a big way the past two games.
Playing on the top pairing with Miro Heiskanen, Lundkvist scored a game-tying goal Thursday in a 4-3 overtime loss against Ottawa. He then scored with 30.6 seconds left in overtime to win it against the Red Wings.
That gave Lundkvist, 22, goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He is in his first season with Dallas after one with the New York Rangers.
“The way we play everybody here, we don’t hide anybody,” DeBoer said of trusting Lundqvist following his time out of the lineup. “We’re not looking at age or birth certificates. If you’re in the lineup, then we’re going to trust that we can put you out there (in all situations).”
–Field Level Media