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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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