Spiraling Blue Jackets visit Kasperi Kapanen, Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Columbus Blue Jackets meet Tuesday in a Metropolitan Division matchup.

The teams played Oct. 22 in Columbus, with Pittsburgh coming out with a 6-3 win. Since then, things have continued to go better for the Penguins, while the Blue Jackets have dropped to the bottom of not only the division, but also the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh has points in 11 of its past 13 games (9-2-2), including two wins in a row.

In those two Penguins’ wins, there was a clear standout. While others compiled points, none got as much attention as winger Kasperi Kapanen.

He scored the deciding goal midway through the third Thursday in a 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights, then had his second career hat trick Saturday in a 6-2 win against the St. Louis Blues.

The game against the Golden Knights was just Kapanen’s second following seven in a row in which he was a healthy scratch after he struggled, as he hadn’t scored a goal since the season opener.

“I give (Kapanen) so much credit,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I just think he’s trying to play the game the right way. He’s trying to get inside. He’s going to the net. He’s physical on the forecheck. And he’s challenging defensemen with his speed.”

Some eyebrows were raised when the Penguins re-signed Kapanen during the offseason for two years at $3.2 million per season. Now he’s back in the lineup and gaining confidence.

“I think (my confidence) is building,” Kapanen said. “It’s a good sign.

“It hasn’t been the easiest month or so, but just happy to be out there and playing games and winning games.”

Pittsburgh is 2-0 since learning that top defenseman Kris Letang had a stroke. He has been skating and working out lightly but remains out indefinitely.

The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, are trying to get their season on a better track despite dealing with several injuries.

They had three points in two games — a shootout loss against Vegas followed by an efficient 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets — but they followed with a 4-2 loss against Detroit on Sunday and showed some regression in the setback.

Or a lot of regression.

“It snowballed the wrong way for us most of the night,” Columbus coach Brad Larsen said. “Some of the mistakes we made — holy smokes. … We weren’t plugged in.”

Defenseman Marcus Bjork said Columbus didn’t handle the Detroit forecheck as well as it has against previous opponents.

“We (had) been playing much better, helping each other more — use a pass and go forward,” he said.

“We need to be sharp every shift and help each other. … We need to learn and move on to the next game against Pittsburgh.”

Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine had five shots but no points against Detroit after scoring twice against his former club, Winnipeg, in his return from a seven-game absence because of an ankle injury.

Columbus avoided another injury Sunday when defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov took a puck to the face in the second period. He was able to return in the third and finish the game.

–Field Level Media