LUCA LETS LOOSE
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were aggravated.
The team was stymied by rookie goaltender Braden Holtby during a 3-0 loss on Friday, October 9, and things weren’t going much better the following night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Tigers held a 1-0 lead through the first 30 minutes of the game, and some chippy play combined with another solid goaltending performance saw frustrations mount to the point that a full out line brawl broke out.
The Pens came out of the on ice carnage with a five minute power play, but struggled to generate any offensive output, eliciting boos from the fans at the Wachovia Arena.
Luca Caputi quickly turned those jeers to cheers.
With about a minute left on the man advantage, Caputi took a long pass from Deryk Engelland at the far blue line, then skated in and put a shot just under Nathan Lawson’s glove hand for his first tally of the season.
It was a combination of relief and elation the Wilkes-Barre forward felt after being stopped on no fewer than four great scoring chances the night before.
“I was doing the right things in the game against Hershey and creating a lot of chances, but was snake-bitten a little bit,” said Caputi. “It felt good on Saturday to get the first one under my belt.”
Caputi drew even more applause with what happened next.
The following faceoff saw the puck drawn back into the Bridgeport end, and Caputi put on a chase. The Sound Tigers’ Dustin Kohn, attempting to keep the goal scorer at bay, chopped at Caputi’s back, leading to a fight between the circles in the Bridgeport end.
Caputi doesn’t go looking for fights, but he’s more than willing to drop the gloves if the need arises.
“I think my M.O. is to be a power forward, and I have to play that game,” he said. “It means fighting, it means finishing checks, it means just constantly being in guys faces, it’s a collection of all three that I have to do. I think for the most part I’m going to have to show people that’s what I’m willing to do.
“I think with what happened on Saturday, it was just frustration. We were getting chances and not scoring. Same with the Hershey game. I thought we played really well, we were getting chances and not scoring. Frustration level’s high, and someone does just a little thing like that, it can just set you off.”
It would also be easy for Caputi to be frustrated with his spot on the Penguins depth chart. With a roster full of players who captured an NHL title last season, the second-year pro knows that it’s going to be a challenge to crack the Pittsburgh lineup.
But the highly-touted forward isn’t looking at the situation as a negative.
“I want to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I want to prove every day that I’m an elite player at this level, so they think that I’m ready for a full time spot up there,” Caputi stated. “I think that’s everyone’s goal, but for me especially. It’s my third year in the organization. And I know you don’t have very much time to prove yourself, so I’m just trying to do my best every day to prove that I belong up there.
“They’re the Stanley Cup champions, so it’s obviously hard to crack their lineup. But at the same time it’s an intriguing opportunity, because you know when you go up, you’re going to be in a winning situation, and you’re going to be around guys who are talented and winners. There’s always injuries during the year, and you know there’s going to be call ups. You just wait for your opportunity, and when you’ve got it, you just make the best of it.”
Caputi wasted no time in showing his ability during his first call up. His first NHL goal came during his first NHL shift, which took place on February 3 in Montreal.
“Bill Thomas was up [from Wilkes-Barre] as well. He chipped it in. It was a two-on-one, I just took it to the net. It was a mad scramble, I think I had three or four whacks at it and then it finally went in. I don’t know, I just couldn’t believe it. My first 10 seconds in the league and I scored.
“I work so hard down here to score a goal, it takes me like four or five games sometimes. You go up there and it’s on your first shift. It was funny and emotional. I’m just glad my friends and family were there for it.”
Caputi has only one full season of AHL experience under his belt. Even so, he’s seen more time in Wilkes-Barre than many of his current AHL teammates. The Penguins roster features eight rookies, and seven other players who had never slipped on the black and gold prior to opening night. That puts Caputi in the unique position of being a leader in the dressing room at a very young age.
“I think the coaching staff is counting on a couple of us to step in and be leaders, even though it’s just our second season,” he said. “Taking everything we learned from last year as rookies and trying to help out the guys this year. It wasn’t very long ago that I was a rookie picking up pucks, renting movies for the bus ride, so I can relate to them and help them out. It’s a good situation.”