Pittsburgh didn’t exactly ease Kris Letang back into the lineup


Upon learning star defenseman Kris Letang would be made available for the first time in 21 games, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he would use Letang in a top-four defenseman role against the Rangers.

Turns out it was more a “top defenseman” role.

Letang played a team-high 24:17 in last night’s 4-1 win over New York, recording an assist while finishing plus-2. It was a rather epic workload for the 24-year-old rearguard, who hadn’t played since Nov. 26 due to a concussion.

“It was a good game, a good test, to see if I’m in shape, I guess,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I felt pretty good out there.”

The timing of Letang’s return was interesting given Pittsburgh’s opponent. The Rangers recently returned a concussed defenseman of their own — Marc Staal, who made his season debut at the 2012 Winter Classic — but integrated him into the lineup as a much more methodical pace than Pittsburgh did with Letang.

Staal played just 12:41 in his first game back, steadily building to the point where head coach John Tortorella felt comfortable giving Staal his usual big minutes — he averaged 25:44 last year.

(Note: Staal’s first big-minute game of the season occurred last night against Pittsburgh as he played 24:58, a season-high. The irony!)

Looking ahead, it’ll be curious to see how Bylsma handles Letang’s minutes tonight against Montreal. It’s Pittsburgh’s second game of a back-to-back and emotions will likely be running high, as Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty was the player responsible for concussing Letang back in November.