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Penguins Notebook: Kapanen Capitalizes; P.O Produces

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Kasperi Kapanen

It was only one game, only one goal for Kasperi Kapanen, and only one victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But they were two points the Penguins, who had lost two in a row before defeating Vegas, 4-3, at PPG Paints Arena Thursday, really needed.

And Kapanen’s goal was one that, well, he needed a whole lot more than his team needed the win.

“It’s been a while since the last one,” he said.

Yeah, quite a while.

His game-winner at 9:25 of the third period was, after all, his first goal since the regular-season opener Oct. 13 against Arizona. And while there was nothing terribly eye-catching about most of the rest of his performance, it was the kind of solid, two-way effort that could help him hold onto a spot in the lineup.

Kapanen played on the third line with Brock McGinn (on whose second-period goal he assisted) and Jeff Carter for the second game in a row after being a healthy scratch for the previous seven.

“I feel like I’ve been playing some bad games,” Kapanen said. “Some good games, too.”

His challenge now is to just convince the Pittsburgh Penguins’ coaching staff that he deserves the opportunity to try to string a few more good ones together. He did that against Vegas.

“He’s trying to play the game the right way,” Mike Sullivan said. “He’s trying to leverage his speed, as best he can. He was winning puck battles. I thought his play (along the boards) was good. A lot of those things add up to winning hockey.”

Bet on Vegas

A lot of people figured this would be a down year for the Golden Knights, in part because their goaltending figured to be unproven, at best.

But Logan Thompson, who stopped 43 of 47 shots Thursday, earned recognition as the NHL’s rookie of the month for November, and Jack Eichel is settling nicely as the Golden Knights’ No. 1 center.

The Penguins’ victory was a rare bit of adversity on the road for Vegas, which has an away record of 10-2-1.

“That was a good team we beat tonight,” Sullivan said.

The Golden Knights are big and tough, and had someone planted during in front of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry for much of the evening.

That certainly was the case when Shea Theodore scored during a power play early in the third period to give the Golden Knights a short-lived 3-2 advantage, as Mark Stone staked out a spot near the crease and Jan Rutta was unable to move him.

“They have some size on their team, and they’re a pretty good net-front team,” Sullivan said. “We knew that was going to be one of our challenges, to try to control the net-front. But, in particular, it’s a big challenge for Tristan, because he has to be able to fight through the traffic to find the puck.”

Committee chairman

Sullivan made it clear that no individual will be expected to fill the void created by Kris Letang’s absence, that it will have to be done by committee.

True enough, but that doesn’t mean the load will be shared equally.

And it’s reasonable to expect Jeff Petry to be the head of the committee.

After all, he has moved into Letang’s spot on the right side of the top defense pairing, and inherited his place on the left point of the No. 1 power play.

He had Letang-like ice time against Vegas — a team-high 26 minutes, 19 seconds — and was on the ice for one even-strength goal by each team, as well as Jake Guentzel’s power-play goal, on which he got the second assist.

Petry also was credited with two shots and six blocked shots, tying Marcus Pettersson for the team lead in that category.

Praise for P.O

P.O Joseph might have been the most visible Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman throughout the evening, even though he worked on the No. 3 pairing and got only 14 minutes, 23 seconds of playing time.

He was assertive offensively, and was on the ice for both the Penguins’ first and second goals while playing well at both ends.

“I thought he played really well,” Sullivan said. “He uses his mobility to skate us out of trouble. I thought he made some real good decisions with the puck coming through the neutral zone. He helped us along the offensive blue line. With each game, he gets a little more poised with the puck. I think the game is slowing down for him. And when it does that, it allows players to act on their instincts.

“It might have been P.O’s best game. I thought he played a strong game tonight, on both sides of the puck.”