Report: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang Out For Season


Mar 26, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Kris Letang (58) skates against the Carolina Hurricanes during the 3rd period at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

A lack of depth on the blue line has been one of the main storylines during the five-game losing streak that has the Pittsburgh Penguins on the brink of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot out of the lineup due to injuries – and trade-deadline moves having pushed the Pens too close to the salary cap to facilitate an AHL call-up – the Pens have been forced to ice just five defensemen during the most important games of the season.

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Attrition has noticeably set in among the strained defense corps, especially in Friday’s 3-1 home loss to the Islanders, which has left the Pens’ fate hanging in the balance as the final day of the regular season arrives.

The ice-time distribution Friday was typical for this recent stretch, with Paul Martin skating nearly 28 minutes, Ian Cole at 26 and Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy both well over 20.

Even if the Pens can manage to qualify for the postseason for the ninth consecutive year, it appears they will remain shorthanded on defense until next fall. Dejan Kovacevic first reported Friday night that the team is not expecting Letang back this season, no matter how long it lasts.

Letang was putting together a Norris Trophy-caliber season before suffering an apparent concussion in a win over Arizona on March 28. Coyotes captain Shane Doan knocked Letang out of the lineup with a check that sent the latter tumbling awkwardly into the Consol Energy Center end boards.

Doan wasn’t penalized on the play, nor was he issued supplemental discipline by the NHL, although it could be argued the hit was unnecessarily dangerous.

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  • The Pens had reportedly been optimistic that Letang would be back for a potential playoff run, but as general manager Jim Rutherford admitted to Kovacevic and others Friday evening, that is no longer the case.

    Although doing without Letang’s dynamic abilities will be borderline crippling for any remaining hopes the Penguins have to do some damage in the playoffs, getting Ehrhoff back on the ice eventually would still be a boost.

    The 32-year-old native of Germany has been out since March 24 with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and he has missed 32 games in some form or fashion this year. Ehrhoff signed a one-year contract with the Pens last summer, but he has been a mild disappointment mostly because of his inability to stay healthy.

    According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Ehrhoff skated in a conditioning session Friday in lieu of the team’s morning skate. Because of this, he is a long shot to dress for Saturday’s pivotal game at league-worst Buffalo, which doubles as Ehrhoff’s previous employer.

    The Penguins (42-27-12, 96 points) enter tonight’s 7 p.m. start against the Sabres (23-50-8, 54 points) needing either a victory – or some help from either Ottawa (97 points) or Boston (95) – to clinch a playoff berth that seemed a foregone conclusion as recently as two weeks ago.

    Friday’s loss to the Isles means the Pens will have to settle for one of two Eastern Conference wild-card spots, should they get in the postseason at all. As such, they will face either the Rangers, Canadiens or Lightning in the first round, depending on how the final seeding shakes out.

    Next: Steelers preparing for 2015 NFL Draft