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Why Mike Sullivan Benched Kasperi Kapanen in Penguins Win

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Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins
PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 14: Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Kasperi Kapanen (42) waits for play to begin during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals on February 14, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

In August, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs in hopes he was the missing piece to their puzzle as the top-line right wing with Sidney Crosby. Former GM Jim Rutherford paid the price other GMs were unwilling to pay for Kapanen, but the former first-round pick didn’t get to play with Crosby until the 15th game of the season.

By the third period of the 16th game, Kapanen was demoted to the fourth line and benched in the Penguins 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan did not make a big deal of the benching when asked but didn’t shy away from the reasons, either.

“I was trying to find guys who were bringing it tonight, who were competing hard and give us the best chance to win,” Sullivan said. “And some nights, those things are going to happen.”

On a night when it seemed most Penguins players were off their game, Kapanen was the highest-profile player who collected splinters. His offensive production has been slipping since a hot start to his Penguins career, which was postponed by a few weeks because bureaucratic red tape delayed his travel to the United States.

“…I didn’t think Kappy had his game going (Saturday), so I was trying to find guys who were going to give us an opportunity to win,” Sullivan said bluntly.

Kasperi Kapanen Sliding Stats

Indeed, a quick check of Kapanen’s stat line on NaturalStatTrick.com shows he is slipping below career norms and well below what may be expected for a player with his ability. And, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up a first-round lottery draft pick for him. They expected a little more than career norms for the player stuck on bottom lines with the Toronto Maples Leafs, who has scored 44 and 36 points in the last two seasons, respectively.

Kapanen has seven points (2g, 5a) in 13 games which are in line with previous seasons, but more giveaways than takeaways (7-3). He has more hits taken than given (17-13). He has not drawn a penalty this season. In 13 games, he has only four high-danger scoring chances despite playing with talented centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Sullivan tried to spark his lineup on Thursday night by moving the red-hot Bryan Rust back to Evgeni Malkin’s line. Malkin is still searching for his rhythm this season, but Rust has been dynamic with 15 points (6g, 9a) in 16 games.

Sullivan also hoped to spark Kapanen, who had just two assists in his last five games.

Now that stat has receded to one assist in his last five games. He played just 11:42 on Saturday, which is his lowest total since his first game this season when coaches managed his ice time because he couldn’t participate in training camp.

Brandon Tanev got the tap to play with Crosby and Jake Guentzel in the third period, though not much came of the opportunity. Zach Aston-Reese also took several shifts beside Evgeni Malkin as Sullivan scrambled and shuffled the lines beginning in the second period.

It also appeared that Sullivan skipped Guentzel for a few cycles, too, but he ultimately played over 19 minutes. Kasperi Kapanen did not get his spot back and played just 19 seconds in the third period.

Earlier this month, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella stapled star winger Patrik Laine to the bench because Tortorella didn’t like how Laine dealt with an assistant coach. There were no lasting effects, and Laine responded with points in four straight games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won four of their last five games despite a couple of subpar performances. Sullivan had enough of the Penguins’ individual struggles, and a top-six forward watched the rest of the Penguins’ 3-2 victory.

Sullivan shortened his bench in the third period. Fourth line center Mark Jankowski only played two shifts in the third period. Rookie winger Drew O’Connor suffered a similar fate, and defenseman P.O Joseph didn’t play in the final nine minutes.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Katz
Katz
5 months ago

Why is it Verbotten to ever bench Malkin? How many giveaways leading to odd man rush’s does it take to ever have him even miss one shift? Apparently an unlimited amount.

Last edited 5 months ago by Katz
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mja
mja
5 months ago

Dumb trade at the time. Dumber trade now.

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David Heyl
David Heyl
5 months ago

If ur not one of Sullys boys u pay the price. Anyone paired with Letang will look bad! They have to adjust to cover all of 58 mistakes. Also how many times does a winger have to wait for the center to catch up & watch Malkin turn it over. Until the apparent issues of 71 & 58 r addressed this team will go sideways. I wonder how many top pairing d men have 1 take aways after 15 games and don’t get benched?????

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
5 months ago
Reply to  David Heyl

Letang is not without his warts and yes they are showing a bit more with age. He’s taken a bit longer to get his legs every year but I think he’s starting to get them under him. Losing his regular partner three games in, with no training camp, to have a rookie put out there with him, it was never going to be easy for a guy his age with that playing style to come out flying. I think Joseph’s play of late is something Letang has struggled with too. POJ has been absolutely lost quite a few times lately,… Read more »

Iwasiam
5 months ago

So Letangs weak passes are POJs fault?? Please

Iwasiam
5 months ago
Reply to  David Heyl

Don’t know why you got a couple of negative hits but I couldn’t agree more with your comment. Id like to hear why someone didnt agree. And are they seeing something that we’re not and maybe can enlighten us.

Eric
Eric
5 months ago

KK, just probably tired of being slowed down by the brooding Malkin. Bench Malkin! How many times do we trade for a player and get little effort. Ie remember Brasard? How much longer do we have to watch Malkin sleepwalk all over the ice. If your not going to score don’t give the the other team the puck by the blue line!

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[…] Indeed, a quick check of Kapanen’s stat line on NaturalStatTrick.com shows he is slipping below career norms and well below what may be expected for a player with his ability. And, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up a first-round lottery draft pick for him. They expected a little more than career norms for the player stuck on bottom lines with the Toronto Maples Leafs, who has scored 44 and 36 points in the last two seasons, respectively. Read from source…. […]

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[…] Click here to view the original article. […]

Andy
Andy
5 months ago

Kapanen’s benching had nothing to do with his play. As others have stated, star players are not riding the pine. This is the same coach who didn’t make an adjustments in last season’s playoffs. He just kept the same four lines and well we know how that went. So why Kapanen? Why now? It’s simple. Sullivan knows he’s on the hot seat with a new president and GM on board. He had to be a “coach” now and appear to do something to jump start the team. It’s not about motivating the players. It’s about Sully’s own self preservation.

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