Kasperi Kapanen doesn’t have a goal after three games of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ opening-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.
He does, however, appear to be getting something that is no less elusive, and probably even more important: His coach’s confidence.
After a miserable regular season, during much of which Kapanen looked to have only a fleeting familiarity with ice hockey and no particular interest in playing it, he has been a positive force in the early stages of this series.
He has been engaged, physically and mentally, and has been a positive presence almost every time he has gone over the boards,
The best evidence of Sullivan’s faith in him is Kapanen’s average ice time of 19 minutes, 55 seconds per game. The only Penguins forwards averaging more are Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“I think (Kapanen) has played really well, and I think the biggest thing that’s noticeable is that he’s using his speed to his advantage,” coach Mike Sullivan said Sunday. “He’s getting in on the forecheck. He’s been another physical player for us, but he’s using his speed off the rush, just wide speed and shooting the puck.
“He’s getting to the net. He’s had a number of opportunities in and around the blue paint, just by getting to the net, getting inside the dots. And he’s doing it consistently, game-in and game-out. That’s an important aspect of trying to generate offense and score goals in today’s NHL.”
During the regular season, Kapanen routinely pulled up short and curled toward the boards after carrying the puck into the attacking zone. That has not been the case in this series, which is a big part of the reason his impact has spiked.
“I think he’s done a great job during this series,” Sullivan said. “I think he’s playing really well. And I think that if he continues to play this way, he’s going to score some goals for us.”
Pittsburgh Penguins notes
*** Sullivan said that Rickard Rakell, who was injured in the first period of Game 1, skated Sunday, but that Tristan Jarry and Brian Dumoulin did not. The team had a scheduled day off.
*** Crosby, who took his game to a level few players can reach during the third period of Game 3, has two or more points in five consecutive playoff games against New York. He’s kinda good, so the New York Rangers probably have noticed him by now.
*** Sullivan, on the play of Jason Zucker in Game 3, when he had a game-high seven hits in his first appearance of the series: “I thought he was a big part of the game last night. He brought us a lot of energy. He obviously plays the game with an edge. He brings a certain level of physicality to our team, and he helps us get momentum. … He has a game that’s conducive to playoff hockey, and I thought he brought it last night.”
*** Although the Penguins chased Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin from Game 3 with four goals in the first period, they still appreciate the challenges he can pose for them. “He’s a really good goalie,” Sullivan said “He’s had a tremendous year for the Rangers. … He’s not an easy goalie to beat.”
*** The Pittsburgh Penguins will be trying to take a 3-1 lead in a series for the first time since facing Philadelphia in the opening round in 2018. They eliminated the Flyers in six games. The Penguins did, however, lose a second-round series to the Rangers in 2014 after winning three of the first four games.
*** Crosby’s next assist will be the 128th of his playoff career, moving him past Jari Kurri and into sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list.