Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov victims of Rangers’ chemistry experiment

All these months later and — for better or worse — the Rangers are still attempting to find a Jesper Fast facsimile to play the right side with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. That is among the

All these months later and — for better or worse — the Rangers are still attempting to find a Jesper Fast facsimile to play the right side with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

That is among the reasons, and perhaps the primary one, that David Quinn is shuffling line combinations in advance of Tuesday’s match at the Garden against the Penguins.

Colin Blackwell will move up from the fourth line onto the Strome-Panarin unit. Kaapo Kakko, who’d played reasonably well in that spot for the last six games, will step down and rejoin Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil on the third line. Consequently, Vitali Kravtsov will skate on the fourth line after playing an impressive 10:45 with Chytil and Lafreniere in his NHL debut in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout defeat in Buffalo.

“Getting Blackwell up with Strome and Bread [Panarin] gives that line a little bit of a different look,” the coach said. “He’s had success with them in the past, he’s got a little bit more of a Jesper Fast-feel to his game that Kaapo has.

“To me, it’s not necessary to put all the best guys together. It’s putting guys that work well together, having a little bit of chemistry and balance on each line and that’s how we feel right now. That might change over the course of the game, but it’s something we want to look at for [Tuesday] night.”

Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov
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Blackwell is more opportunistic than Kakko, his shooting percentage of 22.0 ranking second on the club behind Chris Kreider’s 22.7, with his 1.47 goals-per 60 minutes also second on the club to Kreider’s 1.54. There’s a stronger defensive component to Blackwell’s game, as well, and perhaps a more consistent forecheck, though Kakko was impressive in his work on the walls and below the hash marks.

And indeed, Quinn stressed that moving Kakko off the second unit did not reflect poorly on his work with Strome and Panarin. Fact is, in 63:57 of five-on-five work these last six games, the unit combined for a possession rating of 63.57 percent; a shot share of 58.1 percent; and an xGF of 56.72 percent. The unit was on the ice for five goals for and three against.

“Kaapo and I talked today. It’s something where you want to let him know and give him a little reasoning for doing it,” Quinn said. “I’ve really liked Lafreniere’s game the last few games, Chytil is starting to play better, and Kakko has played well, so I’m anxious to see them now.”

These three yoots were intact for five games the middle of last month, the line generating positive numbers including an xGF of 62.70 percent while on for one goal for and none against in a small sample size of 47:19 of ice time.

“I’m not worried about what they looked like before because, when you have such young players, they change and they get better, you hope,” Quinn said. “I think all these guys have continued to improve, and I’m anxious to see how they play together because I think they have the ability to do some good things.

“They’re getting better and more responsible defensively, but I also think there’s going to be an offensive element they might be able to bring.”

Quinn cited the fact that Kakko won’t be in for a steady diet of matchups against top-two lines and top-two defense pairings while shifting to the third unit. That’s a give-and-take element, too, for Kakko now won’t have veteran support in the middle or the left.

There is also a trickle-down effect in which Kravtsov, who should represent the antonym of the definition of a fourth-liner, will at least open as a fourth-liner. It is not simply about ice time — in an anomaly, the Rangers’ fourth line of Blackwell, Kevin Rooney and Julien Gauthier on Saturday played 10:13, 1:28 more than the Lafreniere-Chytil-Kravtsov unit — but about playing with mates who complement his offensive ability.

It is unclear that fourth-line candidates Gauthier, Rooney, Phillip Di Giuseppe and Brett Howden, who missed the last seven games and skated with the club for the first time since being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list, check that box.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Quinn, when reminded he has said that Kravtsov is not a fourth-line-type player. “It’s just with the players we have, this is the best lineup we feel we have for [Tuesday] night.

“Really, there’s not anything more or less to it.”

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Larry Brooks

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