NHL on NBCSN: Penguins hoping for spark from Kapanen after benching

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

If you were looking for Kasperi Kapanen in the third period Saturday night against the Islanders, chances are you missed him.

The Penguins forward mostly watched from the bench in the final 20 minutes of their 3-2 win, hopping over the boards for one 19-second shift. As the team celebrated Sidney Crosby‘s 1,000th NHL game with a comeback, Kapanen had a good view.

“I was trying to find guys that were bringing it tonight, that were competing hard and were going to give us the best chance to win,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan afterward. “And some nights, those things are going to happen. I didn’t think [Kapanen] had his game going tonight. And so I was trying to find guys that were going to give us an opportunity to win.”

It wasn’t just the third period. Kapanen was moved down to the fourth line in the first period as Sullivan felt opportunities for others were warranted.

Through 13 games Kapanen has two goals and seven points and only one point in his last five games. He’s spent a lot of time with Evgeni Malkin, but recently has been up with Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Despite his third period benching, Sullivan had the 24-year-old Finn back on the No. 1 line during Monday’s practice ahead of their game against the Capitals Tuesday night.

[PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Sullivan said he has spoken with Kapanen, only saying the two are “very much on the same page on what the expectations are.”

Those expectations? Create scoring chances, get open when Crosby has the puck, and win puck battles.

The hope was Kapanen would solidify one of the top two right wings alongside Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He missed the first part of the season due to visa issues, so maybe what Jim Rutherford expected to see is on its way. Hextall and Burke are hoping so. Same for Sullivan and Crosby, who has seen a revolving door of wingers in his Penguins career.

Kapanen, acquired in August for a package that included the Penguins’ 2020 first-round pick, is signed through next season with a $3.2M cap hit. He’s coming off his two best NHL seasons with 80 points in 147 games. He was acquired by the old regime, and now that Ron Hextall and Brian Burke are in charge it’s a time of first impressions and making a case to stay should changes be required.

That spotlight will continue to shine brightly on Kapanen if his bumpy start continues on.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.