With no signs of a now half-season long slump ending for Kasperi Kapanen, Mike Sullivan might be about to try something new based on Penguins practice lines on Thursday. Other than the usual Sidney Crosby first line with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, the other three lines have been changed up as Pittsburgh prepares to host Vegas tomorrow.
All expected players are present. Kapanen and Aston-Reese are rotating on right wing of the fourth line:— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 10, 2022
The winner of this line arrangement, should it carry over to the game tomorrow, would be Evan Rodrigues, who perhaps finally gets a crack at playing with Evgeni Malkin. Rodrigues hasn’t been very productive lately either as he looks to get back into the unstoppable groove he once found himself in earlier in the season.
The biggest loser is surely Kapanen, who went from the Malkin line (where he typically starts games, but usually doesn’t finish them these days) down to rotating on the fourth line with Zach Aston-Reese. Veteran Brian Boyle, who was a healthy scratch last game and pushed out of the lineup with Teddy Blueger’s return from injury, found himself shifted to wing at practice today.
Kapanen also found himself removed from the team’s second power play group in those drills, in perhaps another sign his presence in the lineup tomorrow night may not be requested by the team.
Sullivan has rotated Kapanen to the fourth line at other points this season, but presumably this is not a situation that can continue indefinitely. Kapanen isn’t a fourth line player, that won’t and can’t be the spot that he will find himself playing for very long, if he’s not outright left in street clothes for tomorrow night’s game.
Whether it’s a situation to send a message or a sign of a bigger issue to come remains to be seen, but it looks like Sullivan might take the matter of “taking ownership” in Kapanen’s game into his own hands.
Sullivan on swapping Kapanen/Carter: “I’m trying to make decisions to give our team the best chance to win. I felt we needed to get more threats from different lines. We’re trying to put guys in positions to be successful. Everybody, Kappy included, has to take ownership.”— Angie (@acarducci) March 9, 2022
In happier news, Mike Matheson returned to practice and in a normal contact jersey as well. As seen above, he still skated with reverse defenseman P.O. Joseph, a probable indicator that Matheson shouldn’t be expected to play tomorrow against Vegas. But it doesn’t look like it should be that long until he can return to the lineup. Matheson last played on February 24th, and talked with the media saying he had a nagging upper body injury that eventually became too much to continue playing with and forced him from the lineup.
Matheson says he played a couple games with the injury and it just didn't feel right, so they took more of a look at it. #Pens— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) March 10, 2022
Mark Friedman has done a nice job as a fill in, but Matheson’s puck movement —and lately point production — has been missed on the back-end of the Penguin defense.