By John Toperzer
Rookie Kasperi Kapanen wristed a one-timer from the inside left circle for a power-play goal Saturday — his first goal in a Penguins sweater. He did a nice job possessing the puck along the boards and fit well on the Penguins top line. His learning curve is proving to be impressive, as he looked somewhat shaky and unsure of himself in the previous game.
With right winger Beau Bennett unfortunately sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, the 18-year-old Kapanen could earn a nine-game NHL tryout the way Olli Maatta did one season ago. Depending upon his play, he could stick around even longer.
New coach Mike Johnston spoke after Saturday’s game about Kapanen.
“Well the intention tonight was to have (Sidney) Crosby, (Chris) Kunitz and Kapanen on a line. We’ve tried to play him at different spots, just to see how he looks with players, to see if he can play with guys like that. I thought Kap looked good. He’s very good on the power play. You can see his offensive skills and instincts. I think defensively he’s still got to learn the game, you know how it is as a coach you always want to trust your players defensively. I’ve seen big strides in the last couple days. A guy like him is coming over and playing on a different ice surface. His skill and speed and poise with the puck is very good. So to answer your question, yeah he could be a guy to jump in for Opening Night.”
Coach Johnston was asked if Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta will play in the final two games of the preseason.
“Pascal will play, it looks like, in both of those games,” Johnston said.
“Maatta, all signs are that he should be able to play. We’re still waiting on the final word for Maatta. We’d like to get him into one of those (final preseason games). I know he’s right on the fine line of a couple days here or there.”
Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff looked like two peas in a pod on defense. They were paired together both at even strength and on the Pens’ top power-play unit — and looked good.
Ehrhoff, who totaled six goals and 27 assists in 79 games for the Sabres in 2013-14, won’t finish with a minus-27 rating again — genius analysis, I know.
The fact that coach Johnston had initially intended to play Kapanen with Crosby and Kunitz on Saturday shows that the Penguins are truly giving him an opportunity to make the team — now more than ever.
Rookie defender Scott Harrington made some smart passes out of his own end Saturday, also showed some of his short-comings. At one point he foiled a Matt Calvert play, only to turn the puck back over to Calvert. Harrington is going to need to learn that NHL players don’t give up as his OHL and AHL opponents did.
Marc-Andre Fleury (2):