EDMONTON, Alberta — Kaapo Kakko was still chasing his first point of the season heading into the Rangers’ matchup with the Oilers on Friday night, but the Finnish winger said he knows “how it goes over here” now that he’s in his third NHL season and it’s easier to work through dry spells.
“I think the last couple games, our line, we didn’t have many scoring chances,” Kakko said after the Rangers’ morning skate at Rogers Place. “But [I’m] still waiting for that first point, I think after that [I’ll be] feeling better and I think I can play better after that.”
After going on injured reserve just three games into the season with an undisclosed upper-body injury, which sidelined him for four contests, Kakko slid right back into his right-wing spot on the second line, next to Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. He has skated on the second unit for the entire season so far.
Kakko wasn’t sure, however, if he would attribute his slow start to still trying to get comfortable playing alongside the aforementioned two players — with whom he saw some time next to last season, as well.
That second line has only skated in five games together so far, considering Kakko missed four games on IR and Strome missed four games in COVID-19 protocol. In 52:21 of even-strength play, Kakko, Panarin and Strome have been on the ice together for three goals, but have generated just one high-danger chance, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I think we’re defending well right now, but we’re still spending too much time in the D-zone,” Kakko said of his line. “We are second line right now, so we need to spend more time in the O-zone and get more scoring chances. I think that’s the biggest thing right now.”
Head coach Gerard Gallant said that, regardless of Kakko’s lack of points, he has been pleased with the way the 20-year-old winger has competed. Gallant also pointed out that Kakko is still coming back from his injury, which he suffered in the Rangers’ win over the Canadiens in Montreal.
“He’s a young kid, he’s just a kid,” Gallant said. “He’s playing well and I’m happy with the way he’s playing. I don’t put expectations on my players, go out there and play and try and win a hockey game. That’s what our goal is every day.”
Prior to Friday’s game, the Rangers were tied for second-to-last in the NHL in five-on-five goals with 12. Alexis Lafreniere has three, while Chris Kreider has two. Panarin, Strome and Mika Zibanejad have registered just one even-strength goal each.
Setting aside the special-teams battle that was the 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks earlier this week, the Rangers certainly need more from their top guns during five-on-five play.
“I think we got to bear down a little bit,” Strome said. “I know I’ve talked about simplicity and stuff like that. But I still think we’re trying to find our way a little bit, like we’re 10 games in. At the end of the day, we’re 6-2-2, so I mean, we’re pretty happy with the results.
“We’re always trying to improve. I think it’s just a matter of possessing the puck more a little bit in the O-zone. A little hungrier maybe, being a little bit closer together. I think sometimes we get into trouble when we’re too spread out trying to make too many plays.”
Credit: Source link