Kasperi Kapanen has been one of the many bright spots for the Pittsburgh Penguins so far this postseason, and it is not only a welcome development, it is the perfect time for his best hockey of the season.
It has not yet resulted in him actually scoring a goal, but he has been noticeable in the best way through the first four games of the playoffs. Given the way his regular season went, it is also quite a surprise. He seemed to constantly be playing his way to the bench and off of the top lines. Not only because of his lack of production, but simply because he was not making much happen in any way.
That is starting to change, and it is starting to show on the ice and in the numbers.
Just by watching these first four games you can tell that he is more involved in the play offensively. He is creating chances, he is around the net, he is using his speed, and he is looking like the type of player the Penguins hoped he would be when Jim Rutherford traded a first-round draft pick for him.
Simply put, he has been involved. Through four games he already has 16 shots on goal, and his 25 total shot attempts are fourth on the team behind only the top line trio of Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel. Along with the individual numbers being strong his on-ice numbers have been excellent (as have most of the Penguins skaters) from a scoring chance and expected goals perspective. He has pretty much done everything except actually score a goal, and it has not been for a lack of chances and opportunities. At this point it is unreasonable to expect him to be an elite finisher or big-time goal scorer. If he was ever going to be that player, it would have happened by now. But if you can get this type of play out of him that is still a very useful player. We just need to see it more consistently.
The other thing that is worth pointing out here is that line of Evgeni Malkin, Danton Heinen, and Kapenen has been a little better than it is getting credit for being. Malkin is clearly not the player he was at his peak, and he may not have the best linemates on the team in terms of wingers, but this current trio is still playing well. So far in the playoffs the Malkin-Heinen-Kapanen line has played nearly 50 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. In those minutes they have a 58 percent shot attempts share (63-44), a 63 percent expected goal share (4.08 to 2.38), a 64 percent scoring chance share (36-20), a 70 percent high-danger scoring chance share (20-8), and a 100 percent goals scored share (3-0). That is outstanding. Yes they are getting the most offensive zone starts (as they should) but they are taking advantage of them and playing well.
There is a little bit of a push to get Jason Zucker on the Malkin line right now because of the way he is forechecking and playing so far, but here is the thing about that. There should not be any rush to change any of the line combinations right now. They are all working. All of them. Every single one of them. There is no reason at this point to change things. Maybe in time there will be. Right now though these line combinations as currently constructed are working excellently. When Rickard Rakell returns you can make the adjustments you need to make or want to make but until then there is no need to change things as long as they are all playing the way they are.