X FACTORS


The Penguins are 12-8-1, have trailed in 11 of their 12 wins and have just five victories in regulation. They walk a tightrope, but mostly don’t fall off.

A few X factors are in play for the Penguins. Hopefully that continues. One is Kasperi Kapanen. Click HERE to read my Triblive.com column about the young Finnish winger. 

Another is defenseman Mike Matheson. 

When Matheson was acquired from Florida, Twitter immediately wanted to make him a scapegoat, the new Jack Johnson. That hasn’t happened. (It hasn’t happened with Cody Ceci, either.) 

Matheson isn’t perfect. He can be a disaster defensively. He makes bad turnovers. He might play the pass when the foe has an odd-man break, gifting a de facto breakaway when the other defenseman also plays the pass. (That happened Feb. 20 when the New York Islanders came to PPG Paints Arena. Matheson inexplicably backed toward Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Jordan Eberle converted for the Islanders.) 

But Matheson can skate, and makes plays with the puck. In that same game against the Islanders, he converted a 200-foot give-and-go with Teddy Blueger to tie the score at 2-2 in the third period. The Penguins ultimately won, 3-2. He caught Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart semi-pulled, semi-not late in Tuesday's 5-2 victory over visiting Philadelphia, rifling a long shot past him for a spectacular insurance goal.

Matheson makes bold moves and does subtle things, too. He understands, like Sergei Gonchar did, that changing a shooting or passing angle by just a few inches can make a big difference. Perhaps Matheson is Gonchar Lite. I’d like to see him get more power-play time. 

The Penguins’ defensemen jump into the play constantly. They must produce to justify doing that. The defenseman totaled four points in Tuesday’s win vs. Philly. 

No Crosby? No problem. Kapanen and Matheson were among those who delivered big Tuesday.

Courtesy of Getty Images


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