The Detroit Red Wings were doing their best to make a push to get back in the game Saturday against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, but winger Dominik Kahun came through. His handsome goal less than two minutes into the third period proved the deciding tally in a 5-3 win.
Kahun wasn’t very animated after giving the Penguins a 4-1 lead. That’s because he was worried. When he carried the puck over the blue line, the play was awfully close to being offside.
“The first thing, I asked the guys, was it offsides? That’s why I didn’t celebrate that much, because I knew it was pretty close. So I asked them,” Kahun recounted Monday after the Penguins practiced at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. The Red Wings didn’t challenge. The goal stood.
“I was happy.”
But he couldn’t exactly produce a good celebration after a short delay.
“I still was happy inside,” Kahun said, smiling.
It’s a feeling he is growing more comfortable with in his first season with the Penguins. In fact, he’s happier and more comfortable in a lot of ways.
Kahun, 24, played his first NHL season with Chicago in 2018-19 after playing in Germany. The Penguins acquired him in the offseason in a trade that sent defenseman Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks.
It seemed obvious to observers that Kahun was not overly comfortable or confident upon arrival to Pittsburgh. He confirmed that, indicating he spent a lot of time in his own head.
“I think in sports, doesn’t matter what you play, you always have that thinking. When you’re alone especially. Then you start thinking about how you have to be good and everything,” he said.
“It took me maybe five games into the season – the preseason and the regular – and then I started playing my game more and more.”
The results lagged a bit. Kahun had 13 goals, 37 points playing in all 82 games last season for the Blackhawks. But the points were slow to come in black and gold.
“I couldn’t score goals or get points, but I think I played OK, and I just kept playing good, and now I’m also getting rewarded for that,” said Kahun, who has five goals, 10 points over the past 11 games, giving him eight goals, 17 points in 29 games this season.
“You need to feel good. But you also have to battle through the stuff when it doesn’t go well.”
Kahun has moved around the lineup. Lately, one of his linemates has been Jared McCann, who seemed to make a much smoother transition to the Penguins when he was acquired from Florida in an in-season trade last winter.
“Obviously, going to a new team is different. You learn all new systems and all new guys. It’s tough. It really is,” McCann said. “Some guys take more time than others. There’s no reason behind it. It’s just the way it is. But he stuck with it. He’s a professional. He’s been playing awesome for us.”
Before he found his comfort zone, Kahun got a little caught up in trying too hard to prove himself.
“Maybe in the beginning I almost felt like I was a rookie again,” he said of joining the Penguins. “It was my first season last season in the NHL, and I got traded right away in the summer. Everything was new again, and I had the same feeling as last year.
“It would be different if I (was still) in Chicago because they know what I can do, even if I’m not playing that good, I wouldn’t think about it. But here I thought about it because I wanted to show myself again and show what I can do.”
Now he appears to be past that.
A strong and fleet skater, he likes the way the Penguins play.
“I also try to bring my skill, make plays, make passes to get the guys in better position,” he said.
And when he’s alone, his thoughts are more upbeat.
“Oh yeah, for sure. I feel good now,” he said. “I really like it here. I feel comfortable. I like the guys a lot. It just feels very good here. And I’m playing good I think now.”