Kaapo Kakko is all smiles as he celebrates his first career NHL goal. It came in a 4-1 loss to the Oilers. AP Photo by Bruce Bennett via Getty Images
The first goal of a promising NHL career came at 18:28 of the first period. Kaapo Kakko was all smiles and full of excitement as fans loudly cheered his wonderful finish off a good pass from Ryan Strome to beat veteran goalie Mike Smith for a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, it was the only lead the Rangers would have. They proceeded to play a dismal final two periods against a much stingier and tighter checking Oilers, who got the last four goals to win 4-1 this afternoon at MSG. There are going to be days like this for David Quinn’s rebuilding team that dropped its first game of the season to fall to 2-1-0.
Save the excuses about the week layoff. Edmonton had no problem coming into the New York/New Jersey area and going a perfect three for three against the Islanders, Devils and Rangers. The Oilers improved to 5-0-0 to continue their perfect start under veteran coach Dave Tippett. They no longer play the wide open run and gun style that too often hung their goalies out to dry. With more emphasis on defense and tight checking, they held the Rangers to 21 shots.
In fact, even though they took it to the Rangers the final 40 minutes, Edmonton themselves only finished with 27 shots. That tells you something about the drastic change in a more organized system that should produce more wins this season. Under new leadership that includes GM Ken Holland, the Oilers look very focused to start the season. Even with question marks Smith and Mikko Koskinen in net, they’re out to prove they belong. So far, so good.
This wasn’t the most entertaining game. There were moments like the big one for Kakko when he was one on one with Smith and went to a nifty backhand finish off a perfect forehand deke for goal number one. Number 24 celebrated the first milestone behind the Edmonton net with happy teammates.
However, it was a frustrating day. The Rangers got sloppy and paid dearly. They couldn’t convert on any of the four power plays the Oilers gave them. That even included a 39-second five-on-three early on. Artemi Panarin was stopped by Smith in tight and he missed on another chance. With Pavel Buchnevich refusing to shoot, it made it easier for the Edmonton penalty kill to defend. At least he wound up with two shots on goal. Otherwise, it was a rough game for the 24-year old right wing, whose icing led directly to Oscar Klefbom scoring the tying goal on a clean Ryan Nugent-Hopkins faceoff win through traffic.
The odd thing about the second is there were only 10 total shots. Each side had five. That made it a combined 25 through two periods. That’s how tight the neutral zone was. It easily could’ve been Edmonton up 3-1 if not for a few big saves from Henrik Lundqvist on odd man rushes. The Rangers turned over pucks and drew the ire of their coach afterwards.
There weren’t a lot of penalties in this one. However, following another miss on a Connor McDavid tripping minor in the third, Brendan Lemieux held up the Edmonton captain just enough to get a interference minor with 11:27 remaining. Fittingly, it was McDavid who was able to score the game-winning power play goal when his centering feed banked in off Jacob Trouba’s skate with 10:16 left.
Prior to Leon Draisaitl putting the game away, there was a quality scoring chance for Lias Andersson to tie it. But his rebound try was denied by a quick Smith, who made sure to close up the five-hole. A frustrated Andersson banged the glass in disbelief. He was noticeable along with Jesper Fast, Brendan Smith and Greg McKegg.
That was the issue. Matched up most of the day with second pair Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo, the top line of Mika Zibanejad, Panarin and Buchnevich were shutout. When they don’t score, where are the goals gonna come from? Kakko was strong throughout in 16:49 of ice time including 2:21 on the power play. However, he wasn’t on the top unit and remained with Strome and Chris Kreider, who’s looked so so in the first three games on a mismatched second line. Kreider did hit the post during a power play on a good pass from Zibanejad. He just hasn’t generated enough at five-on-five on that line.
When the bottom two lines are more noticeable, that’s not a ringing endorsement. Panarin was the only Ranger skater with over two shots, registering six due to his unique combination of skating and creativity. He wound up minus-three along with his line and DeAngelo. Staal was on for two goals against including Draisaitl’s continuation on a backhand that trickled through Lundqvist to give the Oilers all important insurance with 6:48 remaining.
Draisaitl would add the empty netter by skating away from Kakko, who fell. So, even on a day where they were held in check for two periods, McDavid and Draisaitl combined for five points (2-3-5). All coming in the deciding third that saw the better Oilers outshoot the Rangers 14-9.
That’s all it took. Quinn wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort, noting that there were instances in which they refused to shoot the puck. That sounded like a direct reference to Buchnevich, who could be in jeopardy of losing his spot on the first line and top power play unit to Kakko.
I thought Adam Fox was a standout in the loss. He received 17:39 and 2:23 on the second unit. Fox made a couple of excellent reads including one in the neutral zone where he stepped up to intercept a pass and then skated around the net to set up a good point shot. That kind of maturity and hockey sense is why good things should happen soon for him.
On a day he was pretty good overall, Lundqvist would want the Draisaitl goal back. He finished with 23 saves in a losing effort. Smith only had to make 20. Now, the Rangers have another layoff before visiting the Devils on Thursday. The schedule doesn’t make any sense. At least you’ll finally have a Hudson Rivalry game between Kakko and Jack Hughes. The top pick is also still looking for his first NHL point. Hopefully, he gets it tonight in Boston before that anticipated showdown.
As for the Blueshirts, it’s back to the drawing board. They’ll definitely be getting in some practice time following such a disappointing game. Expect changes.
3rd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, Rangers (1st career NHL goal in 16:49)
2nd 🌟 Oscar Klefbom, Oilers (goal and 🍎 in 21:43)
1st 🌟 Leon Draisaitl, Oilers (2 goals and an 🍎 in 23:24, plus-two)