Kris Letang, Mikhail Grabovski

Game of the Week preview: Should the Penguins be worried about Kris Letang’s struggles?

Thanks to some great work by head coach Dan Bylsma – and a roster full of hustling, hardworking players – the Pittsburgh Penguins remain competitive without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Yet if there’s one player who hit a wall without those two superstars, it is defenseman Kris Letang.

Whether you blame his struggles on the absence of those two forwards or the wear and tear that comes from playing big minutes in the post-Sergei Gonchar days, there’s little doubt that Letang is running out of steam. He began the season on a torrid pace, scoring 41 points in 50 games, but now he only has five points in his last 21. Things have been especially troubling lately, though, as he only has one assist and zero goals in his last 12 games.

His struggles aren’t limited to the offensive end, either. After producing positive plus minus ratings in every month through the All-Star Game, Letang sported an ugly -9 in February and holds a -1 with zero points in seven March games.

It would be hasty to wonder if Letang’s hot start was just a mirage, especially considering the drop in quality supporting cast members around him. Along with losing Crosby and Malkin – which surely hurts his power play numbers – Letang also has been without the safety net provided by defenseman Brooks Orpik and the one-two offensive punch provided by fellow scoring blueliner Alex Goligoski. Orpik has been injured while Goligoski is no longer on the team’s roster thanks to the James Neal trade.

A Penguins fan asked Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat reporter Dave Molinari about Letang’s issues, leading to this response.

While it’s painfully obvious that Letang’s play has slipped – he has one point, an assist, in his past 12 games and recently went 10 in a row without recording a positive plus-minus rating – his exceptional play during the early months of the season makes his slump seem even worse than it is. Whether it was realistic to expect a 23-year-old playing the toughest position in the game to remain at the rarefied level he so often reached during the first half of the season is open to debate, but his play into January certainly raised the bar of expectations.

Whether Letang really believed that it was his responsibility to fill the offensive void created by the loss of Crosby and Malkin isn’t known, but the reality is that there aren’t many defensemen shy of Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey in their primes who could even think of putting up enough points to do that. And if Letang did feel that way, he surely should have realized long ago that it wasn’t working the way he hoped.

That Letang has lost his swagger, as you put it, shouldn’t surprise anyone, because even the most accomplished player’s confidence suffers when he slips into a significant slump. It’s tough to be assertive when you’re doubting your abilities. The good news in that regard is, once Letang gets his game back in sync – and that will happen at some point, although there’s no guarantee it will be this season – his swagger will come back, too.

Overall, the Penguins shouldn’t be worried about Letang in the long term, but it’s tough to avoid speculation that he might struggle during the remainder of this season and the playoffs. Of course, that could all change if a well-rested Crosby finds his way back into the lineup.

Spoiler alert: Oilers shut out Jets to win the Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers beats Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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There was no miracle comeback this time for the Winnipeg Jets. No heroics from highly touted rookie Patrik Laine.

Puck drop at the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field was delayed due to glare from the sun. When the game did begin, the Jets couldn’t get anything going, falling behind in the second period against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers leave Winnipeg with a 3-0 victory.

It started with Mark Letestu opening the scoring with a short-handed goal after a mistake from Dustin Byfuglien at the Edmonton blue line.

The Oilers continued to ruin the party with a goal from Darnell Nurse — in the box when Letestu scored — just 1:46 later. And Zack Kassian made it that much more difficult for the Jets to come back with another second-period goal for Edmonton. Three goals in just about eight minutes and it was game over.

The Jets’ record falls to 2-3 — a slow start that puts them at the bottom of a very difficult Central Division.

And their schedule likely won’t do them any favors, either, with home-and-home sets against Dallas and Washington, not to mention some back-to-back games on the road.

Meanwhile, the Oilers have had a completely different start to their season.

A week ago, head coach Todd McLellan blistered his team for a brutal performance on home ice against the Buffalo Sabres. Goalie Cam Talbot wasn’t good at all, allowing a goal from center ice.

A distant memory, it seems. Talbot stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shut out Sunday.

The message from that effort versus Buffalo — the lone blemish on Edmonton’s schedule so far — seems to have been received from the Oilers.

They went on to beat Carolina and St. Louis, and then they took control of Sunday’s contest in the middle period and didn’t give Winnipeg anything from there.

Wait, what? Letestu’s short-handed goal opens the scoring in Heritage Classic

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 03: Mark Letestu #55 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Oilers shutout the Flyers 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With a power play in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets had a good opportunity to take the lead on home ice in the Heritage Classic.

But instead, it was the Edmonton Oilers cashing in.

Mark Letestu opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, beating Connor Hellebuyck on the glove side on a breakaway after Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on the puck at the blue line.

Letestu took advntage. That’s his second goal of the season, both coming on the penalty kill.

The Oilers were able to further silence the crowd in Winnipeg, as Darnell Nurse, right out of the penalty box, buried a Connor McDavid pass just 1:46 after Letestu’s goal.

Bylsma: ‘We need to get more’ out of Reinhart

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Sam Reinhart #23 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Sam Reinhart has two assists through four games this season, and Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma has made a move with the hope of getting the 20-year-old forward going offensively.

As per John Vogl of the Buffalo News on Sunday, Reinhart has been moved to the middle between Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons, while Matt Moulson was moved to the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo.

Reinhart, a 23-goal scorer from last season, had two assists through the first two games, but has been kept off the score sheet in Buffalo’s last two contests.

Outside of that six-goal outburst versus Edmonton last weekend, scoring has been an issue for the Sabres early in the season. So adjustments to the forward combinations is to be expected.

“Sam needs to get a little bit more feet moving, a little bit more speed to his game,” said Bylsma, as per the Buffalo News.

“He’s made some great plays for us early on – power play and five-on-five for the Okposo goal – but we need to get more out of Sam, moving his feet more, playing a little bit faster, a little bit quicker and providing a little bit more offense for our team.”

The Sabres, without two key forwards in Jack Eichel and Evander Kane with long-term injuries, which would help explain the team’s early offensive issues, conclude a four-game road trip Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Sabres also called up forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson from Rochester in the AHL.

P.K. Subban clearly had a blast as Titans’ 12th man

P.K. Subban
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When P.K. Subban shows up at your event, you expect to be entertained. And he basically always delivers.

His trend of delighting Nashville Predators fans continued on Sunday, as he made a glorious appearance as the Tennessee Titans’ “12th Man.”

If you close your eyes and picture a scene, you probably wouldn’t be that far off; it still doesn’t make this any less fantastic. (Even if the Titans eventually dropped a 34-26 loss to the Colts.)

The photo he posted on his personal Twitter account was great:

This GIF of him using a sword feels like it will get some mileage on Twitter. After totally convincing other people about your sports/political/hot-dog-being-a-sandwich opinion, and then drop the P.K. dagger:

Was the Titans jersey not lasting for long predictable or unexpected?

Opinion: this was the Titans game to attend since they fell a yard short of beating the Rams.