Penguins notebook: Former Penguins forward Letestu gets big break



At the time, getting traded to Columbus might have seemed like one of the worst things that could have happened to Mark Letestu.

After all, when the deal went down two years ago, it sent him from the Penguins, a perennial Stanley Cup contender, to the Blue Jackets, a club whose playoff history could be detailed on a 3-by-5 index card. In very large print.

But it turned out to be the biggest professional break he ever will get.

Letestu was, at most, a capable role player for the Penguins, marooned on the depth chart center behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

But with Columbus, which faced the Penguins Friday night, his responsibilities and profile have expanded, and he has flourished.

“He’s turned himself into a guy who, as a coach, I really trust,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said.

Richards was Letestu’s first coach with the Penguins’ minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, and said his game “has come a long way” since those days.

Letestu readily agreed.

“Todd and I have a much different relationship now than we did in Wilkes-Barre,” he said. “I was a younger guy. I needed a lot more time in the office [to help] with teaching and shaping my game.

“I needed to compete a lot harder. Now, I compete pretty hard. I’m a pretty responsible player. … I’m a contributing member to the team and relied on quite heavily, I think.”

Star sighting

Crosby was named the NHL’s No. 2 star of the month for October.

St. Louis center Alexander Steen was honored as the No. 1 star and San Jose goalie Antti Niemi was No. 3.

Crosby led the league with 21 points in 13 games — he was shut out in just two of them — to lead the Penguins to first place in the Metropolitan Division.

He recorded two or more points in six games and got his eighth career regular-season hat trick.

Steen scored a league-high 11 goals and Niemi went 9-1-2, with a 1.72 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and two shutouts.

Reminiscing

Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger, a Plum native, acknowledges that “I haven’t been here too much” in recent years, and that games against the Penguins aren’t quite the same as they were before Consol Energy Center opened.

“It’s a little different now,” he said. “New building, not the same thing I grew up in.”

Even so, there are vivid reminders throughout the arena — especially in the hallway that connects the home and visiting locker rooms — of the players Umberger idolized in his formative years.

“You look at the walls and see guys like [Jaromir] Jagr, Mario [Lemieux], [Larry] Murphy and [Paul] Coffey and [Ron] Francis, all those guys I grew up watching,” he said. “Those were the glory days of my youth hockey, and the reason I am where I am.”

Columbus cannon

The finale of the home-and-home series between the Penguins and Blue Jackets will be played at 7:08 p.m. today at Nationwide Arena, where one of the most distinctive features is a cannon that issues a jolting report when Columbus scores.

Those blasts routinely startle patrons who aren’t expecting them and at least one Penguins player admits to being caught off guard when the cannon was fired in a preseason game in September.

“The first time, it shocked me, big time,” center Joe Vitale said.

And while most of his teammates say they aren’t especially bothered by the cannon, that doesn’t mean they enjoy it, if only because it signals a goal by their opponent.

Tip-ins

The Penguins’ healthy scratch was winger Matt D’Agostini. … Injured winger Beau Bennett worked out on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the game-day skate, but did go out with his teammates. … Off-ice officials Phil Spano and D.J. Johnson were honored for 25 years of service.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.

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