PREVIEW: Kasperi Kapanen clicking as Pittsburgh Penguins host New York Rangers

Mar 7, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Kasperi Kapanen (42) scores a goal against New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during the first period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers for the second straight game Tuesday, Kasperi Kapanen will likely line up as the right winger with center Evgeni Malkin.

That wasn’t the original plan when the Penguins reacquired their 2014 first-round draft pick from Toronto during the offseason. Kapanen was projected as Sidney Crosby’s right winger.

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But Kapanen, who missed training camp and the start of the season because of visa issues in his native Finland followed by a COVID-19 quarantine period, didn’t click — with Crosby or otherwise.

He was demoted to other lines and, on Feb. 20 against the Islanders, got benched in the third period, followed by a one-on-one conference with Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

“Everybody sees how I played. It wasn’t good enough,” Kapanen said. “Obviously, it was a nice little sit-down with Mike to talk about certain areas I can help the team. It’s not always about offense. It’s taking care of business down low in our own zone. That translates to the rest of my game.”

Since then, Kapanen has played with Malkin, who was not happy with his first several weeks of play this year, either. Both are prospering.

Over the past eight games, Kapanen has four goals, nine points, while Malkin has three goals, eight points.

“I think they’ve established some pretty good chemistry,” Sullivan said. “(Malkin) is a really dangerous player off the rush. He sees the ice so well, and he commands so much attention with (Kapanen’s) speed.”

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On Sunday, Kapanen had a goal and two assists, Malkin a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win that ended the Rangers’ three-game win streak and knocked them back to .500 a little over 24 hours after they had eclipsed that mark for the first time this season.

One upside to the two-game sets in this pandemic-era season is the chance to immediately correct things against the same team. Rangers coach David Quinn pointed to his team’s play in the neutral zone as one of those things.

“We were just way too puck-conscious in the neutral zone,” Quinn said. “Not really alert, gave up three or four breakaways because we’re playing the puck and not keeping our bodies between the net and the opposing players. Just basic things. Our mentality has to change in that scenario.”

New York also has to decide what to do at goaltender for Tuesday.

Igor Shesterkin has a mild groin strain. He is on the trip, but it’s far from clear that he could return Tuesday.

Quinn opted to give Alexandar Georgiev the start on Sunday even though he played Saturday afternoon in a 6-3 win at New Jersey.

“I wanted to give Georgie an opportunity to go back-to-back and get into a little bit of a rhythm,” Quinn said.

That didn’t go so well, as Georgiev, after being staked to a 1-0 lead, gave up three goals on six shots in the first period — and in a span of 61 seconds — before he was yanked in favor of Keith Kinkaid with 2:44 left in the period.

“We went back and forth about what to do, who to play (Sunday),” Quinn said. “I decided on playing Georgie, and I thought Kinkaid stepped up to the occasion when he went in.”

Kinkaid held strong until Pittsburgh added two goals in the latter half of the third period. He had not played in the NHL since Nov. 30, 2019 while with Montreal.

–Field Level Media