The Pittsburgh Penguins will begin their Stanley Cup defense next week, but will do so without a big part of their blue line.
Kris Letang will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck and will miss the next 4-6 months, the team announced on Wednesday.
“Kris underwent an MRI in February that revealed a herniated disc in his neck,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. “Our neurosurgeons examined him and recommended conservative treatment in an attempt to correct the condition without surgery. Kris had been making progress and was hopeful of returning for the playoffs until about a week ago, when the progress plateaued. He underwent another MRI, and, at that point it was determined that surgery was needed.”
Letang has been out since Feb. 21 and other injuries have caused him to play in only 41 of the Penguins’ 79 games this season. This injury, according to head coach Mike Sullivan, is unrelated to what affected Letang earlier in the season.
Just how vital was Letang to the Penguins’ Cup conquest a year ago? He played nearly 29 minutes (28:52) per game, scoring three times and recording 15 points. One of those three goals, which ended up as the game winner in Game 6, was the result of his great work in the San Jose Sharks’ zone:
As one defenseman exited for the the season, two Penguins blue liners came back this week. Both Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta rejoined the team after long absences and could return to the lineup before the playoffs begin next week.
I just want to say thank you to everyone for all the kind words!! I will be back stronger than ever !! pic.twitter.com/wVK2DWgcmy
— Kristopher Letang (@Letang_58) April 5, 2017
The blue line now consists of Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Streit and, when healthy, Maatta and Daley. No true No. 1 there, but the Penguins have thrived despite injuries hitting their lineup on a constant basis this season.
“We don’t expect any one guy to replace Kris Letang,” said Sullivan “But we believe that we have a group of players that are capable of winning games and having success. We’ve done it all year long, regardless of what our injuries have been. We’ve found ways to overcome it and win games, and that’s the mindset we’re going to have moving forward.
The Penguins are pretty much set in a Round 1 matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets and all that needs figuring out is home ice.
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