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Penguins notebook: No plans to cut back Kris Letang’s minutes

October 6, 2018
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Penguins defenseman Kris Letang beats Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in the second period Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Because the Penguins improved their depth on defense over the summer, adding free agents Jack Johnson and Juuso Riikola, coach Mike Sullivan has the option to spread out minutes more evenly on the blue line this season.

When it comes to Kris Letang, it doesn’t sound like Sullivan plans to take that option.

If Letang plays fewer minutes, Sullivan said, it won’t be part of some newfangled desire for balance. It will be because coaches always try to avoid burning out their top players over the course of an 82-game season.

“Tanger’s going to play in all the critical situations. He’s our No. 1 defensemen,” Sullivan said. “I think you guys are way overthinking this managing-minutes thing.

“Of course we want to manage all our guys’ minutes so that we can allow them to be at their best in both the short term and the long term, but I think Tanger is a guy that is an elite defenseman and we’re going to utilize him in that capacity, so I would envision him in all the critical situations that our team is confronted with.”

Read and react

Johnson made his Penguins debut Thursday night, skating on the same team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin after playing against them for years.

During training camp and the preseason, Johnson said he became more comfortable playing behind the pair of superstar centers.

“You definitely have to read and react,” Johnson said. “Part of what makes them so good is they’re unpredictable. If you break and get open, chances are they’re going to see you and they’re going to find you. As defensemen, our job is to defend first. You just try to be smart and read when the opportune time is to get involved in the offense.

“You also don’t want to jump in there and get in their way, either.”

Helping out

Penguins forwards Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan have teamed up with the Allegheny Family Network to donate four tickets per home game this season to families with children who have emotional and mental health needs.

“It’s just an issue that we have to become more aware of,” Sheahan said. “It’s something everybody deals with. If you can catch it when you’re young, at the age we’re trying to hone in on, I think it’s a good thing.”

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