Benching becomes a turning point for Kasperi Kapanen

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Bruins-Penguins stream 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.

The conversation between Kasperi Kapanen and Mike Sullivan was simple. The coach wanted the player to focus not just on his offensive output. A well-rounded game leads to better results, and the Penguins forward was receptive to the constructive criticism.

It was on Feb. 20 that Sullivan kept Kapanen on the bench for all but 19 seconds of final period of Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th NHL game. The forward had a good view of the 3-2 win over the Islanders, but also had a realization that what he was doing wasn’t enough to help the team.

“It was a nice little sit down with Mike to just talk about certain areas that I need to be better in and help the team,” Kapanen said last week. “It’s not always about offense. It’s taking care of business down low and in our own zone, and that translates to the rest of my game.”

At that time, Kapanen had two goals in 13 games. Since the benching, he has five goals, 12 points, and has developed great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin.

“I give Kappy a lot of credit, because I think he’s responded the right way,” said Sullivan. “He’s really making a concerted effort here to play the game a certain way and when he does, in our estimation, he can be an impact player for us.”

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In their last 12 games, Kapanen and Malkin have played 91:58 of 5-on-5 time together and produced seven goals and 26 scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. They also have a combined 20 even strength points over that time. Kapanen was acquired with the thought of playing on Sidney Crosby’s win. But this has worked out quite well.

“I played with him earlier on in the year, but I feel like when you play with new guys it always takes some time to kind of know where he is and kind of mesh together,” Kapanen said about Malkin. “So I think lately we’ve been finding each other, and we’ve been playing better.”

It’s not just Kasperi Kapanen benefiting from this relationship. Malkin has been an offensive force of late as well with five goals and 14 points in 12 games, which includes an eight-game point streak.

This is the hope when coaches seek out proper combinations. Kapanen and Malkin play two different styles, but together the bring out the best in each other’s games.

“Geno’s a really dangerous player off the rush,” Sullivan said. “He sees the ice so well, and he commands so much attention with Kappy’s speed. Kappy can open up the ice for him and Geno can get the puck to Kappy with the speed that he has, so they’ve had some chemistry.

“We really liked it when we put them together, they’ve had some good games, so we’re certainly encouraged by that.”

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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.

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