Winger Kasperi Kapanen, who has struggled to score and just plain struggled this season, dropped to the fourth line Thursday during Pittsburgh Penguins practice at PPG Paints Arena. At that, Kapanen was rotating with Zach Aston-Reese on the fourth line, along with center Teddy Blueger and Brian Boyle at wing.
Kapenen also was not on either power-play unit at practice.
That is a significant drop for Kapanen, whose “normal” spot is alongside Evgeni Malkin on the second line but who has been dropped down the lineup during games at times. Could he be a healthy scratch Friday when the Vegas Golden Knights visit the Penguins? Boyle was the odd man out last game when Blueger returned from a broken jaw.
Coach Mike Sullivan didn’t offer any concrete answers but alluded to different players needing different things when their game is off.
“You try to help players through some of the ups and downs,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes players need words of encouragement. Sometimes tough love is helpful to a player. … We’re trying to do our very best to help these guys and give them what we think they need at a particular time.
“At the same (time), performance matters in all these instances. … My approach to our players, and ‘Kappy’ is no different, is that we’re always trying to be forthright with them. Just trying to give them honest feedback.”
Sullivan made it clear that there is no animosity toward Kapanen.
“I think the world of ‘Kappy,'” Sullivan said. “I think the world of all of our players. … The decisions we’re trying to make as a coaching staff isn’t about whether we like somebody or we don’t like somebody, or mad at somebody. That, for me, doesn’t even enter into the equation.”
Kapanen has nine goals, 26 points in 57 games this season but has underperformed, with no goals since Jan 23, a drought of 17 games. He has two assists during that stretch.
Matheson Full Participant
Meanwhile, injured defenseman Mike Matheson practiced in a regular (contact allowed) jersey. Sullivan said Matheson practiced in a full capacity and now is day to day. He participated in an optional morning skate Tuesday in a non-contact jersey.
Matheson, who said he was dealing with something for a few games before it forced him out of the lineup, skated on a “fifth pairing” with P.O. Joseph Thursday, so it doesn’t seem his return is imminent, but he appears close. Mark Friedman has been filling in for Matheson on the third pairing with Chad Ruhwedel.
Matheson had a couple of thoughts on Kapanen’s struggles:
There were no unexpected absences at practice Thursday. Injured winger Jason Zucker (core muscle surgery) again worked out on the ice before practice.
Princeton Prospect Signing?
The Penguins reportedly have landed another prospect, Princeton University forward Corey Andonovski.
The report comes from TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Sources say Princeton forward Corey Andonovski has chosen the @penguins as his NHL destination.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 10, 2022
Andonovski, 22, of Ontario, has spent the past three seasons at Princeton. He had 10 goals, 24 points in 31 games to lead Princeton this season.
‘Tis the season, apparently. The Penguins recently signed two other prospects.