Kaapo Kakko was not about to complain about it, but all this moving around within the Rangers lineup the last few weeks is not ideal for him.
“I understand we need to do something because we're not winning the games, so you need to do something as a coach,’’ the 22-year-old forward said before the Rangers took on the St. Louis Blues Monday night at Madison Square Garden. “I understand that. I think sometimes, it takes some time, when you start playing with guys you’re not used to playing with. But yeah, it is what it is.’’
Kakko played the first 14 games of the season on the top line, with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, and enjoyed what was clearly the finest start he’s had to a season in his four-year NHL career. He had three goals and three assists and was creating chances galore for himself and his linemates.
But with the team 6-5-3 after a 6-5 loss to the Islanders at the Garden Nov. 8, coach Gerard Gallant changed up his forward lines, reuniting the Kid Line of Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafrenière for the game in Detroit Nov. 10. As it happened, the Rangers won that game, 8-2, and Gallant decided to stick with Jimmy Vesey as his first-line right wing.
Kakko, whose ice time dropped with the move to the third line, had scored one goal and one assist in the 12 games since, leading into Monday’s game. And entering Monday, he had gone six games in a row without scoring a point.
“I just try to not think about that,’’ Kakko said. “You know, like you have a new chance today, I have a new chance to score a goal. And if I just keep doing the same things, and getting chances, goals are coming. I know that. I think that's the only thing I can do right now.’’
Gallant said that the team, as a whole, was playing better early in the season, coinciding with the time when Kakko was on the first line. But the loss to the Islanders was the team’s third in a row (0-2-1) and Gallant wanted to try the Kid Line together. So he made the move.
“We sit in there every day and we go over lines, and what we think is best for our team,’’ Gallant said Monday. “And you say, 'Well, do we keep switching lines around…’, I want to keep rolling things out and keep it same as much as possible. But when you're losing, you’ve got to try to find solutions. So that's what we're doing.’’
The thing is, the Kid Line hasn’t stayed together. The trio was not the same force it had been in last spring’s playoffs, and last Monday, in the game against the Devils, Gallant made another line shuffle, moving Chytil and Kakko up to the second line to play with Artemi Panarin. That group looked good for two games, but then Gallant moved Vitali Kravtsov onto the right wing of that line, replacing Kakko, who dropped back down to the third line the last two games, with Lafrenière and center Barclay Goodrow.
The good news for Kakko in the latest line configuration is that he was playing with Goodrow, with whom he played a little last season, and with Lafrenière, with whom he’s played a lot over the past three years.
“Yeah, I know what he's doing,’’ Kakko said of Lafrenière. “I think ‘Goody’ is good with us. He's very good in the D zone. So that's good for us. And he is, I think, going to the net there more in the ‘O’ zone also.’’