Jason Brough

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks before a faceoff during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Letang out a ‘couple of weeks’ with lower-body injury

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Kris Letang is hurt again. The Penguins’ best defenseman will miss “a couple of weeks” with a lower-body injury, according to head coach Mike Sullivan.

Letang logged 26:23 of ice time in last night’s 4-3 OT victory over the Bruins. It’s not clear how he got injured, though he did take a hit from David Backes that could’ve caused the issue.

With no Letang, expect to see Justin Schultz‘s role increase over the next two weeks. It may also be an opportunity for young Derrick Pouliot, who’s currently in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Steve Oleksy was a healthy scratch versus Boston, so the Penguins do have six healthy defensemen, even without Letang.

The Pens have five games before the Christmas break, starting Friday when they host Los Angeles.

Letang missed five games in October with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh went 4-1-0 without him.

Related: Pouliot’s goal is to become ‘full-time player’ for Penguins

The Jets are finally rested, and it’s time to start winning

EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 11:  Blake Wheeler #26 of the Winnipeg Jets gets up slowly after being slammed into the boards playing against the Edmonton Oilers on December 11, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Fatigue can’t be an excuse anymore. The Winnipeg Jets have had three days off. Starting tonight against Florida, they really need to put some wins together.

The Jets (13-16-3) started the season in grueling fashion, with 32 games in 60 days. By the mid-point of November, it began to show. They went 4-9-1 from Nov. 17 to Dec. 11, making them the NHL’s worst team over that stretch.

“Sometimes you’d dig into the bank and there’s nothing left in there,” said forward Blake Wheeler, per the Winnipeg Free Press. “That’s kind of a bad feeling. You normally have that reserve to tap into and to have that gone on a given night, that makes it tough… There’s obviously an element of mental fatigue that goes with the travel and everything but the physical burden can sometimes be more challenging.”

Looking ahead, Winnipeg plays four times before the Christmas break, and all four games are winnable. Tonight it’s the Panthers at MTS Centre, Sunday the Avalanche pay a visit, then it’s off to Vancouver for a pair of games against the Canucks.

The Jets are only one point back of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference; however, that’s a little misleading, since they’ve played four more games than the Predators.

standings

Tonight’s opposition should also be a motivated group, as the Panthers too are fighting to stay in playoff contention. Whoever wins will get a much-needed two points. Whoever loses will fall further back and face more, tougher questions.

Related: Tyler Myers, who’s missed 16 straight, has ‘plateaued’ in recovery

Pre-game reading: Imagine if Iginla gets traded to Edmonton…or Calgary!

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— Up top, frustrations are clearly boiling over for the Florida Panthers, who lost again last night in Minnesota. Roberto Luongo was pulled after allowing five goals on just 17 shots, then nearly killed Vincent Trocheck. (Unintentionally, we think.)

— The Hockey News comes up with five possible trade destinations for Jarome Iginla, a pending unrestricted free agent on a bad team. One is Edmonton, which would be amazing. Another is Calgary, which would be even more amazing. Iginla, 39, has just three goals in 27 games for the Avalanche this season; however, he does have 52 shots, so it’s not like he’s been totally lacking chances. (The Hockey News)

— Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is rightly worried about his team. “We’re falling in some categories — our penalty killing is dropping, our goals against, our shots against. We’re in the bottom half of the league now in those three categories, and those categories have to be good in order to win.” The Bolts kick off a three-game road trip tonight in Calgary, where the Flames have won four straight. (ESPN)

— If you missed it yesterday, don’t forget to read Elliotte Friedman’s weekly “30 Thoughts.” It includes a tidbit about Eric Staal, who’s been such a good fit with the Wild. Writes Friedman: “I’d heard he was really disappointed in himself after last season, and changed his regimen to deal with that. Staal is very proud and played down the ‘disappointed’ aspect, but admitted he started skating earlier than he used to in the off-season.” (Sportsnet)

— Bruins coach Claude Julien on 19-year-old prospect Jesse Gabrielle: “He’s very energetic. He’s got a good shot. He reminds me a little bit of Brad Marchand in his early years: He’s a little bit reckless, and at times maybe he’s not controlling his emotions. … But he’s got a lot of upside.” Gabrielle currently leads WHL Prince George with 19 goals in 27 games. (CSN New England)

— Speaking of the Bruins, Montreal’s Paul Byron scored a big goal against the B’s on Monday. It was his 10th goal of the season, and it sent the game to overtime, allowing the Habs to salvage a point from a game they trailed late. The Canadiens plucked Byron off the waiver wire last year, and that’s sure proven to be a good move by GM Marc Bergevin. (Eyes on the Prize)

Enjoy the games!

Babcock wants Leafs to be aggressive with the lead

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 29:  Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Babcock calls a timeout late in the third period and gives instructions to his players during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on October 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still learning how to win hockey games.

If they could only figure out how to win the third period, they’d be in much better shape standings-wise.

Consider:

— The Leafs have won just 10 of the 16 games they’ve led after two periods, falling once in regulation and five times in overtime or the shootout.
— Their goal differential is plus-5 in the first two periods combined, and minus-6 in the third.

Last night against San Jose, the Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Zach Hyman and Auston Matthews. But the Sharks scored twice in the third, then won it in the shootout.

“We have left points out there,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “I think part of it is just not continuing to play with your foot on the gas as much. I didn’t think they took it to us big time or anything like that.”

They didn’t, really. The Sharks only outshot the Leafs, 13-9, in the third. They tied it on the power play with just 5:10 remaining, after d-man Matt Hunwick got called for interference.

But Babcock will keep telling his players the same thing.

“The best way to play when you have the lead is like when you have the first tied and you play like you want to get the next one, so you’re on your toes and you continue to get after the other team and you don’t just try to defend back in and play careful,” he said.

That, of course, is easier said than done, when the natural instinct is to play it safe with a lead. Get too aggressive and turn the puck over, you’re not going to look too smart if it ends up in your net.

So it’s a fine line, and the Leafs are learning where it is. They’re 11-11-6 after 28 games, six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division, i.e. six points back of a playoff spot.

Toronto hosts Arizona Thursday.

Lowest winning percentages when leading after two periods

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The Blues’ goaltending situation is once again worth monitoring

Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher (12) scores the go-ahead goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 6-3. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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If winning is all that matters, then Jake Allen is doing a great job for the St. Louis Blues.

More than a third of the way through the season, only three goalies — Sergei Bobrovsky (17), Carey Price (16), and Tuukka Rask (15) — have won more games than Allen (14).

But here’s where things differ between those four netminders: Bobrovsky’s save percentage is .934, Price’s is .940, and Rask’s is .932. Meanwhile, Allen’s fell to just .906 after allowing five goals in last night’s 6-3 loss to the Predators.

The league average save percentage is .914.

“You win as a team and you lose as a team,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, refusing to pin last night’s loss on his goalie, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“I think we made some big errors in our own zone with the puck and they took advantage of. You can’t play like that under the pressure. It just seemed that the third period we ran out of gas.”

That being said, the Blues’ goaltending situation is definitely worth monitoring. Partly because the Blues’ goaltending situation is always worth monitoring, but also because Allen is finally the undisputed starter. That wasn’t the case last year when Brian Elliott was still around. The new backup is Carter Hutton, who’s gone 2-4-1 with an .889 save percentage.

In fact, the Blues (16-10-4) currently have the NHL’s third-worst team save percentage, tied with the Flyers at .897. The Kings (.896) and Stars (.895) are the two teams below them. The former has been without their starter, Jonathan Quick. The latter, well, we all know the story with the latter.

Elliott, of course, was traded to Calgary after helping the Blues reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001.

Elliott’s exit left Allen with much to prove.

“It was tough to make mistakes when Brian was around because one game — you had a bad game — he was right back in the net and vice versa with him and me,” the 26-year-old said over the summer.

“I think you get a little bit more leeway, I guess, now. But not a whole lot. Carter’s a great goalie and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him. I feel that I had to etch myself into the league consistently. Now that I’ve done that, I still have another place to go and prove I’m a legit No. 1 guy.”

Allen also signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract extension in July, so he’s not getting paid like a backup anymore.

The Blues’ next game is Thursday at home to New Jersey. That may be one for Hutton to start, giving Allen the chance to rest up for Saturday’s visit from the Blackhawks.

Lowest save percentages (min. 15 games played)

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