The Penguins are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. Most of that speaks to the exceptional seasons of their top players, who have carried the workload for the team all year. Although in order to be any sort of contender for the Cup this Spring, there are a few other players that have to step up their game.
With two games remaining in the season, it is safe to say that Kasperi Kapanen has not met the expectations the organization believed he was capable of. He has struggled in almost every aspect of the game, with an emphasis on scoring, which he was brought to the team to produce. From a visual aspect, the biggest issue appears to be his confidence.
Kapanen has produced only two goals and seven points in his last 37 games played. Due to these underwhelming numbers, he has seen his ice time diminish dramatically as of late, averaging just over nine minutes in his last five games. Although for the Penguins to have the necessary scoring prowess to compete with the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference, he will need to start generating more offense. When at his best, Kapanen provides a tremendous amount of speed, skill and creativity. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guenztel, and Evgeni Malkin being given much of the defensive attention, he will have the perfect opportunity to make his presence felt.
Jeff Carter has been reliable for the Penguins this season, which is what most hoped for from an experienced veteran center. He is leading the team in face off win percentage with 56.7, which also puts him in the top 20 in the NHL in that category. Also, he has been one of the most positionally sound players on the ice in every zone, always doing those little things right that coaches love.
Although, for the Penguins to get the depth offensive production in the playoffs that they so desperately need, Carter will have to get on the scoresheet a little more frequently. In his last 38 games played, he has produced only six goals and 17 points. Despite the numbers, he does still possess that natural scoring touch that was prevalent earlier in his career, and has allowed him to amass 417 career goals. With the Penguins having many other focal points in their offense, including the newly assigned Rickard Rakell, Carter could catch defenses off guard should he happen to get hot in the playoffs.
Matheson has had a respectable performance for the Penguins this season with 30 points in 72 games, as well as posting a career-high plus/minus rating of plus-11. Aside from the numbers, he has shown impressive flashes of speed and skill. His skating ability and athleticism is truly remarkable, and at the moment his confidence appears to be soaring.
In order for the penguins to succeed this postseason, Matheson will have to truly emerge as that elite No. 2 defenseman. He has to be one that can successfully stymy other teams’ best players in the defensive zone, but also cause absolute havoc when leading the rush or joining the play. If Matheson is able to provide this type of arsenal come playoff time, the Penguins will be a nightmare to matchup against.
The Penguins have many players that will need to be at their absolute best in order to make a deep run at the Cup this season. With so many other dominant teams making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, they need to be getting contributions from everyone. Kapanen, Carter, and Matheson will all need to play up to their true potential to provide any chance that the Penguins can lift the cup this June.
My name is Ray Lindow and I am a recent graduate of Duquesne University. I have spent almost my entire life playing and following hockey. My passion for the game runs deep, and I could not be happier to be writing for The Hockey Writers and covering the Pittsburgh Penguins.