Throughout this 2020-21 NHL season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have seen some steep lows and highs. From jumping out to a 3-0 lead only to lose the game, 4-3, to seeing one of the greatest to ever play in Sidney Crosby suit up in his 1,000th game, it has already been a rollercoaster of emotions.
As Penguin fans watch this season, the team can go from looking like a playoff contender to looking like they should be in contention for the first-overall pick in the draft. But, as it stands right now, the team is in fourth place in the MassMutual East Division, which would be good enough for a playoff spot if the season ended today.
Just in this week alone, the Penguins have seen a low point, blowing the aforementioned lead to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, as well as coming back to beat the Flyers on Saturday before nearly dominating the New York Rangers on Sunday. Throughout the week, the Penguins have started to get major contributions from their supporting cast as well as the stars like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Within that supporting cast, Kasperi Kapanen and Jared McCann have played exceptionally well.
Kasperi the Friendly Ghost
When Kapanen was acquired, there was a little bit of skepticism considering how he performed below expectations with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first three seasons with Toronto, he collected just 10 points in 55 games. The shortened playing time probably didn’t help, but even when he did play 78 games in 2018-19, his 44 points seemed like he still could’ve played better.
Well, regardless of whether you think he was playing to his full potential in Toronto, I think we can agree that he is really starting to take form and is finding his groove in Pittsburgh.
Sunday’s three-point game marked Kapanen’s second three-point game of his career and fourth multi-point game of the season. The way he is scoring looks — for lack of a better word — effortless.
What might be helping Kapanen the most is the ascending play of Malkin. Malkin, who looked to be off to one of his slowest starts as a professional at the beginning of the season, has quietly moved into a tie for fourth place on the team in points with 18. He is really starting to turn into the explosive and dominant player that we all remember him as, while Kapanen is looking to show everyone how explosive and dominant he can be.
McCann Trying to Reach His Potential
Throughout the three seasons McCann has been with Pittsburgh, we’ve seen him show some flashes of offensive prowess. When I think about who he could turn into, I think about his spin-o-rama goal during a game against the Dallas Stars in 2019.
When you see that goal, it is clear that not just any player can pull off a move like that. There is some more offensive potential in McCann than his numbers show. In that season, the 2018-19 campaign, he netted 11 goals and six assists in 32 games with Pittsburgh. In the following year, his first full season with the Penguins, McCann notched 35 points, tied for his most in a season.
McCann is currently riding a four-game point streak, so the potential of him having a solid season is good. However, he left Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury, but the Penguins are “hopeful” that the injury is not too bad.
If this was a regular 82-game season, McCann would be on pace for a breakout season of 48 points. However, in this 56-game season, he is on pace to tally 32 points.
The Penguins learned some tough lessons in the past week. Blowing the 3-0 lead to the Flyers was nothing short of embarrassing, but it is beneficial to get those tough lessons out of the way early on in the season.
If that blown lead happens in the postseason or in crunch time at the end of the regular season, there is much cause for concern and such an incident would be hard to overcome. But, luckily, the Penguins showed they can score a burst of three goals in under 90 seconds and retain the lead, just as they did on Sunday against the Rangers.
The Penguins are back in action on Tuesday with a game at 6 p.m. against the Rangers.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.