PHILADELPHIA — The Rangers found a productive third-line connection between Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko on Wednesday in a 4-0 victory over the exhausted and abysmal Flyers, but Alexis Lafrenière was not with them, serving as a healthy zero for the first time in his two-year NHL career — if not the first time in his hockey life.
After the triumph, which created a seven-point cushion for second place and home ice advantage in the first round while moving the Rangers within two points of the first-place Hurricanes (who hold a game in hand ), head coach Gérard Gallant tried to immediately defuse the situation.
“Alexis didn’t come out of a bad game, it had nothing to do with it,” Gallant said of the 20-year-old winger, who had gone eight straight games without scoring as his efficiency has decreased. “He’s a young man and he’s been looking a bit tired lately.
“He’s never played an 82-game schedule before, so there’s nothing to jump ship. He’ll be back next game.
That means there will be a feeling of musical chair regarding the third-row roster for Saturday’s Rangers game at the Garden against the Red Wings.
Because there’s Chytil, who had a robust game on his return from a two-game absence with an upper body issue. There’s Kakko, who scored twice in an impressive performance in his third game after a 31-game absence linked to a wrist injury and surgery.
There’s Barclay Goodrow, who had two assists against the Flyers while patrolling the left side of the unit and stepped in to take all of his line’s faceoffs, going 8- 2 for his troubles. And there’s Lafrenière, who had been on the third row for the previous 10 games after his long rotation to the top right with an unusually calm Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
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Gallant may be a bit of a magician, but he’s highly unlikely to be able to put those four players on three third lines. This sets up the seven-game trail to the playoffs as a proving ground.
Kakko seemed to prove he’s back, if not even stronger and fitter after all the conditioning and skating work he’s put in throughout his 10-week absence. The Finn was quick and assertive in the attacking zone while working responsibly in his own half in front of goalkeeper Alexandar Georgiev.
“I’ve been out for a long time, so I think the first few games are still not that good,” Kakko said. “But it’s better.”
Kakko, who hadn’t scored since getting a pair in Arizona on Dec. 15, fired one from the high slot, as the seas parted in front of him, to beat rookie keeper Felix Sandstrom for a lead. 1-0 at 10:20 of the first period. He made it 2-0 8:22 from the second forward converting a nifty cross pass from Chytil after the center won the puck in a corner battle.
“I first thought I should pass it to Fil because he was open on the other side for a one-timer but then I saw I had so much time so shoot it,” said Kakko about the first goal. “[The second] was a great pass. It was an easy tap for me.
Chytil and Kakko played a lot last year on the Kid Line which had Lafrenière on the left. When the two are on their games, there is good chemistry between them. It is a qualifier.
“He’s a good player and a great skater and I think that’s good for me,” Kakko said of Chytil, who had three points (1-2) in his last 12 games before this one. . “He has speed, that’s how we can spend more time in the O zone. I try to find him all the time.
Goodrow’s presence adds veteran balance and a 200-foot game that complements that of Chytil and Kakko. But if this is how Rangers line up, then where would be the place for Lafrenière? If the attackers stay healthy, it will be the trickiest part for the coach.
“It’s going to be day to day,” Gallant said. “We have additional players.”
New York Post