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Kasperi Kapanen Floating Away; Shift-by-Shift Diary of Struggling Winger



Pittsburgh Penguins, Kasperi Kapanen

So, just how bad is it? Pittsburgh Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen hasn’t scored or been close in 12 games.

On Saturday afternoon, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan abandoned his reconfigured lines and returned to what looked best on paper; Kapanen beside Evgeni Malkin and Danton Heinen. It should be an offensive weapon.

However, after a full game of intense analysis and watching every stride, we can offer some insights to the burning question, “what is wrong with Kasperi Kapanen.”

The answers are surprising for a player who has a 20-goal season on his resume and who torched NHL defensemen last season with Evgeni Malkin.

That player surely doesn’t exist in the present. After watching Kapanen play just over 12 minutes on Saturday and attempt ZERO shots despite Evgeni Malkin playing well, it’s clear the Penguins may need to serve some press box nachos. The conclusion is at the end if you want to skim the gory details and get the good stuff.

“You could probably imagine where he’s at, as far as his own personal headspace. You know, these guys are great athletes, and they care a lot, and they pride themselves in what they do, but they’re also human beings,” head coach Mike Sullivan said on Thursday. “And when things don’t go the right way, they go through ups and downs with respect to their self-confidence, just like every other person in the world. Kappy is a guy that cares a lot about his own game. He cares a lot about the Penguins, and we’re just trying to help them through the process.

Just trying to get him to simplify his game, shoot the puck more, go to the net. Do things that take some of the thinking out of it and maybe take some of the mindset of worrying about scoring and just focusing on playing the game the right way.”

That didn’t happen on Saturday.

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1st period:

4:20: Kaperi Kapanen didn’t get his first shift until four minutes into the game due to a Rangers PP. In the defensive zone, tipped the puck off the wall out to center. He got on the forecheck and applied soft pressure to Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba; he was maybe a step slow on the forecheck, but he created an errant pass. Nothing else came of it.

5:50: Kapanen got back in a defensive position. However, he didn’t work very hard to defend. He flowed to the middle as the play went to the far side, but he didn’t grab a man when the play came back at him. The Pittsburgh Penguins yielded a high danger scoring chance right in front of Kapanen.

8:00 — The Penguins had an offensive opportunity after a Rangers icing call: an offensive zone faceoff. However, nothing much came of it. Kapanen sort of floated through the shift, neither making himself readily available nor forcing any issues. New York had a long shot on goal at the end of the shift, and that was that.

10:51: Nothing much to it. Tripped at center. Tipped the puck forward. Got back in defensive position.

14:30: Power play. Hung out at the top of the zone. No significant touches.

16:40: Offensive zone faceoff. Kapanen forechecked, and there was a loose puck below the goal line. He and Danton Heinen lost the battle, and the Rangers transitioned with possession.

19:40: There wasn’t much time left in the period, but Kapanen raced to the end wall after a puck. The Penguins had possession as a scrum broke out at the buzzer. Everyone grabbed someone. Malkin, Kris Letang and Danton Heinen were in the middle of the action. Brian Dumoulin was on the bottom of the pile. Kapanen glided over without getting involved.

2nd Period:

2:10: A looping shift in the offensive zone. Kasperi Kapanen got the puck on the rush, pulled up on the mid-wall, and tried to chip it lower. He could have taken it low, followed his own chip, or waited for a trailer. Wasted touch.

Kapanen was skipped on the next shift as Guentzel and Crosby double shifted to play with Malkin. The line had no less than three crowd-engaging scoring chances. They were buzzing.

7:20: The Pittsburgh Penguins had offensive zone possession. Kapanen was caught in the slot, not available to his teammates, but not creating any pressure either. He floated to the top of the zone before heading to the net. He got behind the defense and near Shesterkin, but the Rangers defensemen took him out of the play by stepping in front of him.

Malkin and Heinen had more offensive zone chances without Kapanen touching the puck or being involved. When Malkin had the puck, Kapanen could have popped out to the slot, or fought for front position, bumped Shesterkin. Anything.

9:45: Three on two offensive rush. Malkin dished to Heinen on the right-wing for a good one-timer. The Rangers transitioned three-on-three. Kapanen trailed as the fourth Penguin. It seemed he could have taken one more step and disrupted the rush or taken the puck. Perhaps call a switch so one forward could confront the rush.

13:50: Another rush, another pull-up. This time he got the puck to the defensemen at the top of the zone for a good look. However, he lost the subsequent puck battle.

15:30: Another offensive zone possession, and Malkin and Heinen worked with the defensemen to keep the puck. Kapanen did not get a touch. Nor was he involved in the puck support or open.

3rd Period: 

4:00:  Kasperi Kapanen had a touch at the top of the zone. The Penguins cycled up high–dangerously. Nothing came of it, either way.

Kapanen was again caught in the middle of the offensive zone. Not quite at the net, not open, and not fighting for space either way. As Malkin again had the puck on the mid-wall and lower, Kapanen had a chance to pop open but did not. He blended into the background.

6:10: Kapanen joined the battle deep in the offensive zone, in the right-wing corner. The Penguins won the battle, and Malkin took it to the net, unimpeded. He nearly beat Shesterkin with a deke.

10:20: Malkin and Heinen again played with the puck, without Kapanen being a factor. No touches, again.

16:00 In the defensive zone, Kapanen simply deflected the puck back to center ice, which became the Rangers’ possession. Not quite a turnover, but not doing much with the puck, either. It seemed like a lazy play.


I had a little help from a trusted hockey eye in the press box. The inescapable conclusion is that Kapanen is not differentiating himself from the game. He’s not jumping to the open spots and forcing defensemen to cover him. Kapanen is going to the net and going to the slot, but not with conviction and not getting open.

He’s just…there.

He’s letting the opponents take him out of the game without much pushback. There’s no physicality in his game. He could have finished a few checks or created some thumps on the end walls but did neither.

In short, he’s just sort of existing right now, which is not the dynamic player who created offensive and excitement last season. It was hard to watch. Kapanen has a lot more to give, but his game lacks purpose or passion at the moment.