Sooner than later it could get tense. The Pittsburgh Penguins have scored three goals in their last three games and the main culprits for the offensive blow are players Jake Guentzel and Kasperi Kapanen. Shots weren’t a problem for the top wingers, but lighting the lamp was. It’s a continuation of the problems that plagued the penguins at the end of last season, but their goose eggs are now an even bigger problem.
First, let’s get rid of the mandatory caveats: It’s early in the season. There are 73 games and six months left in the regular NHL season. They are good players.
I think that’s all platitudes.
Now Kasperi Kapanen and Jake Guentzel have teamed up for a goal. Güntzel has four points (1-3-4) in eight games. Kapanen has four points (0-4-4) in eight games.
And neither is enough for well-paid wingers to be in the top six on a team they see as the main source of attack.
“We have good players up and down the lineup and you might play with other guys, but you know how they play and you have to build the chemistry right away,” said Güntzel on Thursday. “So I have to get better and I just have to try to help as much as possible and I have to start producing.”
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Guentzel’s advanced metrics are well above last year’s pace and slightly above his career norms. Missing the end of training camp when he tested positive and had to sit out for 10 days was a setback but only a setback for 10 days.
Güntzel stands for approx. 55% of the shot attempts on the ice and 53% of the goal chances. His expected goals are around 58%. All in all, these are solid numbers that suggest more attacks are on the way.
Guentzel can look back on a remarkable track record. Either next to Sidney Crosby or (better yet, believe it or not) next to Evgeni Malkin. If Güntzel hadn’t disappeared in the playoffs, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, his flashes of skating and offense generation were also offset by invisibility.
The Metro division is too tight, too good to lose games against the New Jersey Devils with Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter in the line-up.
Güntzel was blunt in his exit interview last season.
“I have to find a better way to produce and do my job there, so I take responsibility for that and let a lot of people down. But I just have to find a way to bring in the puck, play games and be better there. “
So far it has not gone well.
As my Canadian friends say, I don’t want to put your boots on, but … If Güntzel can’t go on the offensive without Crosby or Malkin, or both in top form, what does that say? And what are the bigger implications for a $ 6 million player?
The 25-year-old Kapanen seemed to heed the challenge from head coach Mike Sullivan. Kapanen changed his lifestyle this off-season, doing the workouts, prayers, and vitamins to get in shape. Back in the preseason, all of us who watched him daily agreed that a breakout year of monster numbers was imminent.
After four games of the Pittsburgh Penguins season, Kapanen was optimistic.
“Of course you want to score as many goals as possible straight away, but I would be more worried if I didn’t have any chances,” said Kapanen last Saturday. “And I had a lot of them. It’s right now, it hits sticks or it hits posts, (or) I just missed the net. It’s frustrating, but it’s only four games this season. “
Four important games later, Drew O’Connor and Danton Heinen meet. Dominik Simon, Brock McGinn and even Brian Boyle provide the impetus.
So far, the only monstrous thing about Kapanen’s season is the lack of production. His advanced stats don’t show great odds, and while in line with Guentzel, Kapanen is underwater.
Kapan’s superficial statistics are good. He’s on the ice for roughly 55% of the shots and his expected goals are 53%. However, it is well below average even with goals for and against goals (3-3), with the chances of scoring under water (49%) and with 45% of the chances for high dangers.
In other words, Kapanen is trying shots, or his linemates are trying, and they handle scoring chances well but give up better ones.
This is no bueno, especially for someone who has shown that they can play end-wall to end-wall as well as kapanen.
Maybe Kapanen is clutching the stick too tightly? Or maybe that’s Kapanen: a dynamic skater, puck handling, tough 15-20 goal player who is tempting but a mixed up center six winger.
If the latter is the case, it also raises questions about his future as his contract expires after this season and he will be an RFA likely to want a raise on his $ 3.2 million salary.
A player with 15 goals and 40 points doesn’t get much more than $ 4 million even if the GMs get drunk with their owner’s lust and money on a free agent frenzy day.
At this stage in his career, spanned by five NHL seasons, Kapanen will soon be what he will be (unless he’s the next Bryan Rust to become an attacking dynamo at age 28).
Kapanen can carry a line with a mediocre center or a defensive pivot. We saw it in Toronto and again in Pittsburgh when he was producing with Evan Rodrigues and Teddy Blueger in the middle.
We saw his high-end skills when he and Evgeni Malkin set the NHL on fire in front of Malkin’s knee injury last March.
It is there. That’s why Sullivan pushed him to become the elite player they both believe can be.
But Kapanen has to do this for more than weeks at a time. His career highlight remains 20 goals that were thrown back at the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018/19. It’s time he set the career year, turned the potential into production.
The Pittsburgh Penguins desperately need it. A primary scoring threat that doesn’t score is not a major threat or benefit. After their tough week, the Penguins are in last place in the Metro Division (four teams with eight points).
The time has come for Kapanen. Or this conversation and the solutions become much more serious.