Kaapo Kakko seizes opportunity and break 19 game goal drought as Rangers top Sabres 5-3

kaapo kakko
Mar 22, 2021; New York, New York, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate a second period goal by New York right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) against the Buffalo Sabresat Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you just have to seize the opportunities given you and 20 year-old Kaapo Kakko did just that last night at the Garden. Kris Knoblauch finally made an in-game line shuffle and elevated Kakko to the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. The unit combined for five points at even strength with Kakko lighting the lamp twice.

Rangers vs Sabres: Kaapo Kakko breaks 19 goal drought

It’s been a long time in between goals for Kakko, one of the Rangers prized young draft picks from the 2019 draft. Selected #2 overall, there’s been a lot of pressure and expectations on him, but mostly by himself and fans. The Blueshirts have always approached this as a process to allow him to develop. However, this has been a difficult season as he’s been on the COVID list twice. The second time he actually tested positive and it’s been very difficult to recover from.

In a recent Finnish interview, Kakko noted that he is still dealing with lingering effects and that his first few games back he couldn’t find his legs. But yesterday, Knoblauch made his life easier by putting him on a line with the hottest Ranger to date. Kakko realizing who he was playing with adjusted his game and simply went to the net knowing Panarin would find him, and he did to open the Rangers scoring in the second period.

Kakko would add an empty net goal to seal the game for the Rangers. On the bench Strome had some fun with the youngster pulling the proverbial monkey off the back to make him laugh. After the game, he was very straightforward about his game.

“I play with Breadman and Strome, so they can keep the puck, I just go to the net and they can find me, so that was my job today,” Kakko said with a grin. “It always feels good when you score a goal, but after a long time even better.” Kakko went 19 games without one – what a relief for the youngster.

Despite all his struggles and adversity, Kakko’s 14 career goals ties him with #1 pick Jack Hughes for the most by any player selected in the 2019 draft. The next step is for Kakko to keep this going. Part of that will be for Knoblauch to leave him on that line for Thursday against the Flyers.

Notable Rangers

adam fox
Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

How good is Adam Fox? Last night’s #1 star of the game collected a goal and two assists in the effort. Not a bad 100th game in a young career. His 63 points in that span places him fourth on the Blueshirts all time list for blue-liners in points after 100 games (Brian Leetch 99, Sergei Zubov 91, Reijo Ruotsalainen 72). Fox now has six points in his last four games as he logs top minutes for team. He played 24:14 last night and leads all defenseman on Broadway with 24:30 on average for the season.

Chris Kreider also picked up two more goals and even better for the Rangers they were power play tallies. He now has 16 goals on the season to lead the team. Another notable Blueshirt was of course Artemi Panarin who picked up three assists. The Breadman absolutely loves playing at the Garden as he’s added to his career totals notching 81 points in 52 games at The World’s Most Famous Arena.

Finally, Keith Kinkaid wasn’t great but made clutch saves to hold off a very desperate Sabres team. The highlight of the night was a sliding glove save over his pads. He finished the contest with 16 saves and improved his record to 3-1-1.

Post Game Notes

  • The Rangers have earned at least one point in five of their last six games (4-1-1 record over the span), dating back to Mar. 13 at Boston.
  • The Blueshirts were 2-for-3 (3:15) on the power play in tonight’s contest and recorded eight shots on goal over their three power play opportunities. The Rangers have registered a power play goal in three of the last four games.
  • The Rangers were 2-for-2 (2:44) on the penalty kill in tonight’s game and held Buffalo to only two shots on goal over the Sabres’ two power play opportunities. The Blueshirts have not allowed a power play goal against in 20 of the last 24 games (69-for-75; 92.0%), including 14 of the last 17 games (47-for-52; 90.4%%) and 12 of the last 14 contests (32-for-35; 91.4%).

Today the Rangers extras will skate with the next full practice scheduled for Wednesday, March 24 at 11:00 a.m. at MSG Training Center.

Next Game: Thursday, Mar. 25 at Philadelphia (7:00 p.m. ET – TV: MSG 2).

Notes courtesy NYR

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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