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Smoother start to season could be in store for Penguins’ Kris Letang |

Smoother start to season could be in store for Penguins’ Kris Letang

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang beats Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in the second period Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Camp darling defenseman Juuso Riikola introduced himself to Pittsburgh Penguins fans with authority, scoring a goal and playing a remarkably well-rounded game.

Age-defying center Matt Cullen returned to the Penguins in impressive fashion, scoring two goals, assisting on another and playing on the team’s most consistently dangerous line with Zach Aston-Reese and Patric Hornqvist.

Something else that happened in the Penguins’ preseason home opener Saturday afternoon, a 7-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, might have a much deeper impact on the team’s fortunes in the long run, however.

Kris Letang looked like Kris Letang.

Playing in his first exhibition game of the year, Letang teamed up with Sidney Crosby to score one goal and assist on another in a three-minute span of the second period.

On the goal, Crosby camped out behind the net and found Letang open in the slot for a line drive past the glove of goalie Joonas Korpisalo.

On the assist, Crosby drew the attention of the Blue Jackets defense and fed Letang, who flew up the right wing and hit Adam Johnson at the right hash marks for a shovel shot into the cage.

The chemistry between Crosby and Letang has propelled the Penguins to great heights in the past, most notably during the run to the 2016 Stanley Cup.

More importantly, though, Letang looked healthy and comfortable. He was on the ice for three goals for and none against at even strength.

His performance provides further evidence that he won’t have to struggle through the first month of the season like he did last year when he was recovering from major neck surgery in April.

“I think he’s in a much different place than he was a year ago,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s got a full summer of training. His fitness level is where he expects it to be. I think he’s still working on his timing and things of that nature that every player who is coming back from the offseason is working on at this point, but I think he’s in a very different place than he was a year ago and that’s good for us.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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