Kasperi Kapanen is clearly in head coach Mike Sullivan’s doghouse. His ice time is shrinking, he keeps getting demoted, and his only goal over the past 11 games was a puck that deflected in off of his skate after a great pass by Evgeni Malkin.
He is struggling right now.
Evan Rodrigues has started to see his offensive production regress back closer to his career levels (something that, quite honestly, seemed inevitable no matter how much we loved his early season performance) and has not recorded a point in 11 of his past 12 games. He has zero goals and only two assists (both in the same game, the Arizona game) during that stretch.
He is struggling right now.
The combination of those two going cold offensively has put a little bit of a dent in the Penguins’ scoring depth and it might be time to try something new to jumpstart both of them. That something new? Something that worked earlier this season out of desperation. Playing them together on the same line.
There are a variety of reasons why the Penguins will almost certainly not do this. It would shuffle a few other lines (for example, do you play Jeff Carter on the wing in the top-six?) and it would require giving Kapanen a longer leash than he has had lately, and if we are being honest there has not been much in his game to really warrant more ice time. In the long-run Kapanen is probably a player that gets dealt, either before the trade deadline in a salary cap clearing trade or over the summer to save salary cap space when he is due for a new contract. But as long as he is here, and as long as he is one of your 12-best forwards (and he is, even with his recent struggles) you owe it to yourself to try and maximize what you can get from him,
It might be a small sample size, but the Rodrigues-Kapanen duo worked. It worked well. It worked extremely well.
They played 224 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together earlier this season with the Penguins outscoring teams by a 13-1 margin in those minutes, and posting dominant possession and scoring chance numbers, all of which saw the Penguins owning a 60 percent share of each category.
Going back to last season, the Rodrigues-Kapanen duo has played more than 329 minutes together and outscored teams by a 19-2 margin. That is, by my count, very strong. The underlying shot and scoring chance metrics are also still around the 60 percent share for the Penguins.
My thinking here is this: You need to get these guys going. They have clearly played well together for whatever reason and every objective number supports that. These are the dog days of the regular season, you are in a good spot in the standings where you can experiment with some things, and it might end up working out. If it does not click again, you move on to the next option. It is not like their lines have been super productive lately on their own anyway.
The other element of this is when Jason Zucker returns (whenever that might be) he was very useful as the third member of that Rodrigues-Kapanen duo. I know everybody — including the Penguins — seems married to the idea of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Carter, and Blueger being the center depth chart but maybe Carter gets shifted to a top-six wing spot to try and piece together a Frankenstein third line where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It can not hurt at this point. You do not have to stick with it permanently if it does not work the way it did earlier this season.