Kasperi Kapanen started the game last night on a line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
He didn’t finish it there.
Kapanen didn’t play in the last 13:37 of the Penguins close win against the Islanders on Saturday. He only had one shift in the third period, for a mere 17 seconds.
“I was trying to find guys that were bringing it tonight,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “That were competing hard, and were going to give us the best chance to win.”
For a hockey player were pride is taken for being hard-working and energetic, that is about the worst thing a coach can say about a player to bench him for not “bringing it” to the table. Sullivan continued his train of thought to lessen the blow a bit.
“And some night, those things are going to happen, I didn’t think he had his game going tonight.”
So just like that, the guy who was probably one of the Pens’ better players the game before ends up stapled to the bench in favor of others that the coach thinks was playing harder or better on that night.
In a way, it’s just a reminder that players are human. This isn’t a video game where Kapanen is an 83 overall and going to give a consistent, static performance every single shift and period and game.
Performances ebb and flow. Sometimes players are in great form, confident and playing near their peak. Sometimes, for whatever reason nights like last night happen for Kapanen. As Sullivan said, that’s just going to happen at points of the season.
The league’s best players are usually the most consistent ones, but it’s also very difficult to be “on” 100% of the time. Sullivan didn’t like what he was seeing from Kapanen, and it didn’t take very long for a change to be made as the Pens separated Kapanen from Crosby and Guentzel as early as the first period.
The learning and coaching process is a never-ending one. Rookie Pierre-Olivier Joseph also didn’t play in the last 8:45 of a very close and competitive game after being on ice for both of the Islanders goals. He is perhaps another young player whose performance lately has sort of dipped after bursting on the scene so brilliantly earlier on.
The next chapters will be interesting, especially for Kapanen. Sullivan is very purposely and admittedly very careful in his strategy and outward comments to never be critical of players. And he didn’t directly knock Kapanen, though basically saying “I was looking for guys who are competing hard” when asked why Kapanen didn’t play is a clear sign he didn’t think Kapanen was providing what they needed.
Does Sullivan wipe the slate clean and put Kapanen back with Crosby? Was the message that was sent get received in the right way? Or does Kapanen take this hard and get a knock on his confidence or attitude? It will be very fascinating to see where the coach and the player go from here. A benching often is just a minor bump in the road and an opportunity for a reset.
For Kapanen, getting a good view of the game from the bench and losing his spot, at least temporarily, certainly provided such a message.