The Pittsburgh Penguins, who host the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, got jarring news Wednesday when it was discovered that top defenseman Kris Letang had a stroke.
Letang, who will be out indefinitely for further tests and to allow a medical plan to be devised, missed Tuesday's Penguins gamebecause he was not feeling well. General manager Ron Hextall said the stroke happened on Monday.
It was the second stroke of his career, following one in 2014. As with that one, Letang, 35, is expected to recover sufficiently enough to resume his career. The team said he is not experiencing any lasting effects of the most recent stroke, and he issued a statement through the team on Wednesday.
"I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn't right," he said. "While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. It is important for me that my teammates, family, and the fans know that I am okay. ... I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon."
That was good news for the Penguins, who already were feeling down from their past two games following a five-game winning streak.
Pittsburgh was frustrated by a series of gaffes and miscues Saturday in a 4-1 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tuesday, the Penguins were left fuming over what they were convinced was a missed penalty call against Carolina in overtime that helped lead to the Hurricanes' winning goal in a 3-2 game.
"A point is good," Penguins winger Jason Zucker said of the overtime loss coming after a regulation loss, "but it's not enough. We have to be better."
And that's how a five-game homestand started for Pittsburgh after the team played 14 of its opening 21 games on the road. The game against the Golden Knights is also the first of nine at home in December.
"It's important for us to establish ourselves as a stingy team at home," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said going into the current homestand.
"We've got a stretch where we've got a bunch of (home games). ... It's an opportunity for us that we're going to maximize."
So far, not so good.
Vegas could be another challenge for the Penguins.
The Golden Knights opened a four-game road trip with a 3-2 shootout win Tuesday at Columbus. That snapped a two-game losing streak, but it was just the second time Vegas has lost back-to-back games this season.
"It was just about getting a win," Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said of the road-trip opener. "Now we can start building a streak the other way."
His team knows about those. An earlier nine-game winning streak helped establish the Golden Knights as a team to reckon with this season. There was also a three-game winning streak to open the season. They lead the Pacific Division.
Vegas survived a scare in the third period of the game in Columbus when Jack Eichel took a puck to the face, left bloodied, but returned.
"He's a warrior," goaltender Logan Thompson said. "That just shows how hungry we are this year."
Thursday's game also marks the return of former Penguins winger Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh for the only time this season. Kessel's numbers are down in his first season with Vegas -- four goals, eight points in 24 games.
Like Pittsburgh, Vegas played its most recent game without its top defenseman. Alex Pietrangelo was excused for personal reasons. It seems likely he will be available for Thursday's game.
--Field Level Media