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Struggling Kaapo Kakko dropped to Rangers' fourth line 

Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers skates with the

Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers skates with the puck against the Devils at the Prudential Center on Nov. 30 in Newark, N.J. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

Kaapo Kakko hasn’t been the same since the flu knocked him out of two games in Florida in mid-November. He seemed to perk up recently after David Quinn elevated him to the top two lines, but Quinn believed it was time to try something different with the 18-year-old, who hasn’t scored since Nov. 12.

So when the Rangers came out for warmups before Monday night’s 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at the Garden, Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, was skating on the fourth line with center Brett Howden and left wing Brendan Smith.

Kakko, who has gone 15 games without a goal, remained on the first power-play unit and got shifts with the second line. He played 11:33, fourth-least on the team, ahead of only Howden (7:46), Smith (8:22) and Greg McKegg (10:39).

“He and I talked before the game,’’ Quinn said. “There’s been a little bit of a drought here from an offensive perspective. He’s been playing with [Artemi Panarin] and [Ryan] Strome for a while, and we talked about things he’s going to need to do to be effective and stay in that top-six role.’’   

Quinn won’t rip officiating

Quinn was diplomatic about the officiating, which didn’t favor the Rangers. Jesper Fast was cross-checked several times by Dante Fabbro while lying on the ice, but referee Jean Hebert was looking in a different direction. The officials gave penalties to Fabbro (for roughing) and Fast (for holding).

In the second period, Pavel Buchnevich was elbowed in the back of the head by Ryan Ellis, who received a minor for elbowing when it appeared it could have been a five-minute major.

“It was a dangerous hit, for sure,’’ Quinn said. “I’m sure the league will look at it . . . and handle the situation appropriately.’’

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