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Penguins Report Card: Kapanen Benched, Offense Sputtering, Losses Mount

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kasperi Kapanen

Too much drive-by offense relying on rush chances and not zone pressure. Too many players who aren’t scoring. And too little offense from the blue line. The Pittsburgh Penguins are scoring too few goals. They are winless in their last three and remain mired near .500, probably out of a playoff seed.

The Penguins will hang their hat on the offensive pressure that the Sidney Crosby line created in the first two periods. Crosby’s line had 12 shots, which was equal to the other three Penguins lines combined (but not counting the mix-and-match lines later in the third period). According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Crosby line also had 13 scoring chances, which was more double the rest of the lines combined.

Evan Rodrigues has provided a little jump to the line, but the rest of the lineup is in hiding.

Head coach Mike Sullivan nailed Kasperi Kapanen to the bench in the third period and skipped him in the rotation of the lines a few times prior, too. Kapanen played only 11 minutes and got just one shift in the third period after Edmonton took the lead three minutes into the third.

It’s not a good picture.

For a brief moment, the Pittsburgh Penguins found the best defense against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. After a few mistakes in the first period which added a pair of assists in McDavid’s column, the Penguins took the puck away and didn’t give it back in the second period.

But McDavid was too good to nullify for long. The Penguins made mistakes by pressing for offense, inexplicably with McDavid on the ice, and Edmonton pulled away for a 5-2 win at Rogers Arena. 

The Penguins are barely above .500 at 10-8-5. They’re one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot, but Columbus has three games in hand. Boston is three points back with four games in hand.

In reality, the Penguins are only in a playoff spot by playing several more games than their competition. They’re likely a few points out of a playoff spot.

There are plenty of reasons the Penguins can use to assuage their lack of offense. Sidney Crosby has played only 11 games. Their lineup has been depleted. And those reasons hold water, but only to a degree.

It’s December, which means it’s not time to panic, but it’s time to worry because the results have been predictable.

Penguins Loss to Edmonton Indicative

The Penguins limited Edmonton in the first 40 minutes by taking away the puck but were over-aggressive and gift-wrapped a few two-on-one breaks for the Oilers’ big guns. McDavid rang the cash register each time by setting up three goals.

“We were very effective for a good part of the game,” Sullivan said. “I thought for the first two periods we did a great job with our energy and trying to dictate the terms out there. We could have made better decisions with the puck and not feed their transition game.”

But even as the Penguins pounded Edmonton in the second period, their only offense was a goal by Teddy Blueger from Evan Rodrigues during a line change.

“It would’ve been nice to grab the lead, obviously, but we’re still in a good spot, playing good going into the third and just make a few mistakes and it ends up in the back of the net,” Sidney Crosby said. “We had some good pressure, some good zone time for most of the night. And you know, you give them any, any opening, and they take advantage of it.”

Where is Kapanen?

The Penguins’ second line with Jason Zucker-Jeff Carter-Kasperi Kapanen has been AWOL more than they’ve been present. They get chances, but those are usually one-offs. How often can you say that line has created sustained offensive pressure and multiple chances?

Drive-by offense.

“Collectively, I think they could be better at hunting pucks and just working collectively to control territory, give themselves an opportunity to create offense in different ways–I think they get a number of chances off the rush,” head coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday night. “I think that line could do a little bit better job in the offensive zone, just establishing a down-low game. And they’re very capable. They have good size and good strength, and they’re gritty…So they have all the attributes to have a very effective down-low game. And that’s an area I think where they haven’t been quite as consistent.”

Where has the Carter line been?

Where has Kapanen been on the line?

The Penguins winger dominated training camp and preseason but has been mediocre to bad this season. Kapanen, 25, has five goals, but he’s scored those in only three games. That means he’s been goalless in 20 of 23 games.

The Penguins second line has not been good enough, and that’s creating a hole in the middle of the Penguins rotation. In addition to lack of offense, the line is giving more chances and goals, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Sooner than later, the line needs to produce or changes are necessary.

Running Themes

The Penguins are winless in three games, but the losses have too many common themes, which also dovetail to shortcomings of their recent five-game winning streak too.

It’s not bad luck. The chalkboard doesn’t lie, and after 23 games, the stat sheets don’t lie, either.

A lack of finish has been a consistent theme when the Penguins dominate periods. When they plowed 50 shots towards Montreal goalie Jake Allen in a 6-3 loss or otherwise controlled large periods of the game in their 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, they should have hung four or five.

Late goals against Montreal skew the argument a bit. The Pittsburgh Penguins scored one goal on their first 45 shots in that game.

The Penguins have trouble scoring goals, and after 23 games, that’s not a coincidence, bad luck, or bad bounces. After a while, that means a team isn’t good at scoring goals.

The Penguins have scored three or fewer goals in 15 of their last 18 games, beginning on Oct. 28. Two of six times they’ve scored three goals, they’ve lost.

Let’s flip it to glass half full. The Penguins have scored three or more goals eight times in the last 18 games. That’s not good enough. They’ve lost three of those eight games, too.

“If you play in their end, we generated some really good chances, and if we’re able to get that lead, you know, maybe things are a little bit different,” Crosby said of the Edmonton loss. “And you know, once they get a lead, you have to open up a little bit, then you start to get in trouble.”

In the last 18 games, the Penguins have notched that fourth goal only three times and are 2-0-1 in those games.

The Shortcomings

Why aren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins scoring goals? Why is it a grinding slog, uphill, in the mud, with driving rains, and a headwind to score goals even when dominating periods?

*Let’s be brutally honest. The Penguins have a lot of players who are playing above their paygrade. Such players will have good games but also regress, too. Danton Heinen has good stats. Brock McGinn already has nine points. Teddy Blueger scored his 10th point and fifth goal of the season on Wednesday night.

The Penguins bottom-six has–at times–carried the team. Offense from the bottom six is a mark of a team that could have playoff success, but relying on that offense is a mark of a team that will miss the playoffs.

Without Bryan Rust in the lineup, and Evan Rodrigues on the top line, the Penguins are using a fourth line (Aston-Reese, Blueger, McGinn) as a third line.

Combined with the struggles of the second line and the similarly red stats from the Penguins third line, the Penguins middle-six is not chipping in enough offense.

*The Penguins have done a better job of going to the net, but they’re not built to win those battles. They’re certainly not winning enough of the battles near the net as goalies are getting away with dropping juicy rebounds near the crease. The team has improved traffic and chaos near the net, but there’s still a ways to go.

*The Penguins’ blue line is not producing enough, either. The Penguins defensemen have combined for four goals this season. Four goals in 23 games are not good enough. On Wednesday night, the blue line combined for four of the Penguins 27 scoring chances (Matheson 2, Letang 1, Marino 1).

Last weekend, Mike Matheson admitted he wanted to join the rush more often, but only Kris Letang is currently providing an extra stick on the rush.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are teetering again. They’ve almost given back the gains of their five-game winning streak. The Penguins need more offense. They need more from Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter, and Jason Zucker. And the Penguins need more from the blue line.

Or the Penguins need more changes.

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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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David
David
1 month ago

Sullivan doesn’t have a history of benching players simply due to a lack of scoring — so this must be because of a lack of effort, or because of continually making the same mistakes. No one is scoring right now.

Eric
Eric
1 month ago

Good article Dan! I think it’s spot on. I actually said this last year in the playoffs. Blame Jarry all you want on his playoff performance, but the pens scored very few goals. I love Jason Zucker game, his energy, and his team play but he needs to score more goals! When playing for the Kings Jeff Carter was moved to wing because of his lack of productivity, and now he is being asked to center out second line.

Mary L
Mary L
1 month ago

I know I’m a broken record here, but the second line was buzzing with ERod centering Kappy and Zuck. I think Carter should move to Sid’s line. You always need a playmaker on a line, if everyone is a shooter the play is one and done. Also, I didn’t stay up for the game because I’m getting older but to see Sid -4 tells me Sully paired 1st line vs 1st line which is not typical for him. Was he asked to have Sid vs McJesus for TNT? Usually Blueger’s line gets the opponent’s top line. Hopefully we can get… Read more »

celilo
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary L

I agree that Carter needs some new linemates. I see Carter’s effort as declining due to frustration. That said, Carter is a solid player that would probably fit well with Crosby.

MrNails
MrNails(@mrnails)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary L

“McJesus” is good stuff.

Uros
Uros
1 month ago

There was also an article about how Rodrigues is playing lights out and that has been true up until now. Makes you wonder if Carter should have been protected the way he’s playing. Kapanen, I have faith, but even religious fanatics have some doubts when they’re proven wrong day in day out. I’ll just keep this small amount of faith that I have left and see where it goes. Remember when we all wanted Yeo’s head for bad PP performance? I can only say that I wish those days could come back.

Bachinga
Bachinga(@bachinga)
1 month ago
Reply to  Uros

That clock will strike midnight at some point…

celilo
1 month ago
Reply to  Uros

Rodriguez is playing above his pay grade, but I think that’s because of extreme effort and not high level talent. Seeing that kind of effort makes watching the game worthwhile despite a win or loss. Unfortunately, we’re not getting that across the board.

MrNails
MrNails(@mrnails)
1 month ago
Reply to  celilo

Good read on the situation. Totally agree about Rodriguez.
BTW, whatever happened to O’Connor?

Last edited 1 month ago by MrNails
Bachinga
Bachinga(@bachinga)
1 month ago

Combined with the struggles of the second line and the similarly red stats from the Penguins third line, the Penguins middle-six is not chipping in enough offense. Pairing Zucker and Kap with Carter is like pairing Sauvignon Blanc and a light cucumber salad – hold the vinegar – with a NY Strip steak…and the difference between Zuck and Kap is that Kap doesn’t look like he’s doing anything while he’s doing nothing but Zucker looks like he’s actually doing something while doing nothing…during the few occasions when that line can get O-Zone time, those two use Carter as a Maypole… Read more »

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Pretty simple. The Pens are a .500 hockey team. They will play well for 7 or 8 games and then balance it with sub-par play for 7 or 8 games. They do not have the talent and depth to have extended stretches of winning. They will still close enough to be in the hunt for a playoff spot, but almost certainly will fall short. It looks like it will require in the mid 90’s point total to qualify and 82 or 84 is going to fall very short. If Jarry’s play returns to more normal expectations it could be a… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

In terms of W-L-OTL Pnts% our Penguins are 22nd in the league, not in the playoff hunt at all. Zucker is the 2nd coming of David Perron a decent player in the wrong system. Everyone is crying about Kapanen because he is Sullivan’s scapegoat. The inconvenient truth is Kapanen is above the League Average of 0.68 Goals/60 5-on-5 among Forwards, at 0.98 (3rd on the team in that Dept.) while Zucker’s G/60 5-on-5 is an abysmal 0.38. In terms of Team Goals For TGF/60 Kapanen is roughly at the League Average with his 2.35 (2.38 for the League) and significantly… Read more »

Bachinga
Bachinga(@bachinga)
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Kap is a problem…couldn’t care less what his stats say…never plays below or inside the dots…

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Bachinga

Sorry but I am a bottom line guy. I don’t care how pretty someone skates, I only care about results. In hockey the game is about the difference between Goals scored and Goals against. Any player who is on the ice for more Goals for than Goals against has won his shifts. Any player who doesn’t score more Goals than he gives up loses his shift. Furthermore, when you consider bang for the buck, Zucker is costing the team $5.5 Million and on the wrong end of the Goals equation while Kapanen is on the plus side of the equation… Read more »

celilo
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Zucker has a finishers salary without anything to show for it since he’s been with the pens. Like him or not, his ROI is terrible. Kapanen is a bit of a quandary. I would suggest that part of the penguins struggles in the third period were the result of him being benched, not because of his scoring, but because his speed was missed versus the speed of the Oilers. I have frustration with Kapanen as well, but you have who you have until you trade them and must make the best of it. I think part of Kapanen’s problem is… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  celilo

Really interesting observation. I will have to watch that.

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

I get that you’re a results guy, and I’m with you on that. But, 20+ games is far too early to look at advanced stats and draw any meaningful conclusions moving forward.

Mary L
Mary L
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

I agree, Kappy is better than everyone thinks. He saved the puck at the blue line several times that led to goals during our winning streak. I think of him like a Puma, he may look lazy but he can pounce on a puck and put in the back of the net better than most. He just needs the right line mates and ERod with Zuck and Kappy have had chemistry together.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary L

Agreed, that line did have Chemistry. I can’t think of 1 good reason to break it up.

AnthonyB
AnthonyB
1 month ago

E rod has had a very lucky season so far and is dragging down the first line. He should be centering the centering the 4th line for now at best. Hopefully gmrh is looking at a rise in trade values. Zuckers game matches the style of sid and Jake. Kappy needs geno to play his finge sniper game. The 4th line just blows.. come on now. Heinen is stuck in no man’s land lol

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  AnthonyB

E-Rod is a Center not a Wing and a Top 6 Center not a bottom 6 Center. He really wasn’t that lucky early in the season, he was simply playing where he belong – top 6 Center. Now that Crosby is back he is being asked to play either Wing or Bottom 6 Center. He doesn’t have the skill set for either role so he is cooling off. So, I do agree with you that he is not the right Wing for Guentzel-Crosby but for different reasons. Carter would probably be better on that line. E-Rod should be 2nd line… Read more »

Ethan
Ethan
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

“Agreed he fits…” And Zucker doesn’t. Yet Kappy will be demoted to 4th line for a few shifts against Canucks cause that will really fit his slash and dash game as well (might help Heinen up on 2nd though). I wonder if other teams allow lines to play to their strengths, while Sullivan insists that all his lines play the same/his system. Which seems to be face the board and whip puck to other side. If it gets to D (few of whom can or will shoot) back down the boards the puck goes in other direction–rinse and repeat–over and… Read more »

Rick
Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Ethan

What I find interesting is that Sullivan and even many fans want to dump on Kapanen. The team was tied at the end of 2 periods. Sullivan sat him for the 3rd and the team gave up 3 unanswered goals. So was Sullivan’s assessment of the problem accurate? Hmm……

Your description of the team’s perimeter hockey is funny but unfortunately very, very accurate.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  AnthonyB

E Rod has been the Pens best forward all year.
He should be 2nd line center and Put Jeff on Sid’s wing.
Lets also face it, Sid has not been Sid. He looks S-L-O-W!

Wreckage
Wreckage
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Hoffman

Carter looks really slow

trackback

[…] Kasperi Kapanen has been benched by Mike Sullivan and the Pittsburgh Penguins as the team continues to lose […]

Cal Reid
Cal Reid
1 month ago

I see lots of us fans are not happy with the forwards and maybe deservingly so. But the thing that stuck out to me is the way the usually reliable Dumolin played more than one 2 on1s was terrible. He left the players without the puck wide open for easy open net tap ins. Those goals are not on Jarry. Maybe he is coached that way, I dunno but, to me it was always take the pass away and let goalie worry about the shot.

celilo
1 month ago
Reply to  Cal Reid

Dumoulin plays on his heels most of the time, which doesn’t work well against the speedy players in today’s NHL who skate around him.

I really like the way that Petterson initiated contact with oiler players before they could get up to speed around the blue line and before they were deep in the penguins zone. Matheson made a nice play on McDavid, though deeper in the penguin zone, that disrupted a likely goal.

Dumoulin waits for the game to come to him, at which time it’s too late. It’s kind of a shame, because Dumoulin has some talent.

Last edited 1 month ago by celilo
Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago
Reply to  Cal Reid

Exactly. Twice on 2 on 1 he failed to take away the pass. Those are on 8.

MrNails
MrNails(@mrnails)
1 month ago
Reply to  Cal Reid

If he would have hit the ice to cut off the pass on both of those, Jerry would have had a chance. It’s like he totally pussed out and didn’t want to do it.

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
1 month ago

Erod & Letang on the 1st PP, peppering shots would make a difference. Crosby needs a larger player on his wing, someone with a net-front presence. I thought Zucker would be a Crosby type winger, don’t get why that didn’t turn out. Ah, just try Legare if you aren’t planning on making any trades any time soon.

William Maloni
William Maloni(@boysdad)
1 month ago

Sorry, but maybe it’s his wrist, but Sid seems to have missed more shots and open nets in one week than he did last year in four weeks. Just saying.

trackback

[…] Wednesday, the Penguins spoke of the good things after their 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. The Penguins largely dominated the second period and had ample scoring chances, but Edmonton’s […]

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