Quinn’s baffling decision to bench Kakko unjustified in 4-3 loss at Calgary

Mikael Backlund beats Henrik Lundqvist for a crushing shorthanded goal that came three-on-five. The Rangers lost 4-3 to Calgary. AP Photo Credit Calgary Flames via Getty Images

The New Year is only two days in going on three. I’m already perplexed by the continued head scratching lineup decisions of David Quinn. This is no longer about the weird line combos that may as well have channeled Tom Renney.

Rather, it’s about how the second-year Rangers coach is handling certain players. For the first time in a month, Kaapo Kakko was having a good game. Having already picked up an assist on a power play goal, the 18-year old second overall pick finally erased a 19-game scoring drought by having a wrist shot deflect off a Flame in front to tie the score at three in the second period.

Unfortunately, his goal and assist weren’t enough to prevent Quinn from mysteriously benching him in the third following a minor penalty in the offensive zone. It wasn’t a good penalty to take. However, it was the impressive play of the third line that comprised kids Kakko, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden that had the team in position to grab a point. However, by skipping over Kakko for fourth line forward Greg McKegg late in regulation down a goal, Quinn only hurt the team in a frustrating 4-3 loss at Calgary.

I was so annoyed by his response about wins and losses to Brett Cyrgalis that I went off in a Tweet below regarding the way Quinn mishandled the last few minutes off the Rangers’ second straight defeat in Alberta.

I understand that sometimes, Quinn wants to set a good example by benching players following undisciplined play. He finally sat Brady Skjei (minus-2 in 16:32) for some more unsteadiness and a penalty of his own in the third. The top left defenseman got what he deserved. That meant that Marc Staal was moved up to the top pair with goalscorer Jacob Trouba.

For a second consecutive game, Ryan Lindgren struggled. He failed to take Sean Monahan on what turned out to be the game-winner with 11:38 remaining in the second period. Calgary used a quick transition with Johnny Gaudreau making a bullet pass to Noah Hanifin at the point on a three-on-two rush. Hanifin passed for an open Monahan in front and he beat Henrik Lundqvist upstairs for his 14th to answer Kakko less than three minutes later.

Astonishingly, that was it for the scoring. The same two teams who hardly play structured defense, didn’t get another goal in the second half of the contest. A sharp contrast to the seven they had the first 28:22 including a combined five in a old fashioned Western shootout during the first stanza.

Defense was indeed optional in that opening period. So apparently were common sense and checking. It was an inauspicious start again for the Rangers. A horrible back pass trapped Trouba which allowed Gaudreau to get behind and have a clean breakaway from center ice. He smoothly moved in and patiently opened up Lundqvist to go five-hole with a nice backhand off a deke for his 11th unassisted at 4:15.

Shortly following the goal, Calgary ran into penalty trouble when both Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan took minors 49 seconds apart. That gave the Blueshirts a five-on-three. What should’ve been a gimme turned into anything but when more ridiculous East/West passing garbage resulted in yet another breakaway goal for the Flames. Somehow, they allowed Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal three-on-five unassisted at 7:16. He too went backhand five-hole on Lundqvist, who needed to make that save.

Trailing by two, finally the Rangers woke up. Rather than do the pass, pass, pass, grenade routine, they simplified their strategy. Adam Fox, who heard it throughout the night due to not signing with Calgary that drafted him, passed the puck to Pavel Buchnevich, who then fed Trouba for a simple wrist shot that beat former Blueshirt Cam Talbot. It was his sixth.

Still on a five-on-four man-advantage, more simplicity from Fox set up a quick Kakko wrist shot that Talbot mishandled, allowing Chytil to backhand the rebound out of mid-air home for his 10th at 8:07. That gave the Blueshirts back-to-back goals on the power play 25 seconds apart. Both accomplished by the second unit that just made simple and intelligent reads. Nothing fancy about it.

But before the first ended, Ryan was able to score his seventh from Dillon Dube for a Calgary 3-2 lead at 13:18. It was another Skjei mishap that allowed Ryan to score on a wrist shot past Lundqvist due to the defenseman deflecting the puck past his own goalie. This has now happened three times with Skjei. No wonder Lundqvist gave him the death stare.

I don’t care who is in net. Right now, it doesn’t matter. The Rangers are playing awful hockey. They may as well be headless like the Scarecrow from The Wizard Of Oz without a brain.

On what was a forgettable night for the top line of Artemi Panarin (-3), Ryan Strome (-3) and Jesper Fast (-3), it was the Kids Line that got the game tied up at 5:46 of the second. On Fox’s third assist of the game, Howden fed Kakko for a shot that took a favorable bounce off a Calgary defender and in for his seventh to make it 3-3. Boy did he need it.

But on a night they never led, the Rangers fell apart in one giant swoop on another bad shift for the Panarin line. They got caught deep while Gaudreau started a great passing play with Hanifin to combine on Monahan getting the game decider at 8:22. Lindgren missed a few shifts after the blunder. He only played 12:15.

With Quinn later sending a message to Skjei, it meant Staal played a throwback game by receiving 22:12 while getting double shifted for part of the third. Partner Tony DeAngelo logged 22:19 while Trouba paced all Blueshirts with 24:18 and seven shots. Fox got 17:58 while assisting on all three Ranger goals. A good bounce back for him following a poor New Year’s Eve game in the weird 7-5 loss to Edmonton.

The Rangers never could find the equalizer. Their offense stalled in the final period. For a while, Calgary held them to five shots. Again, Joe Micheletti was critical of the team for not taking more shots. Talbot isn’t good anymore. He didn’t have to be. Aside from a nice sliding denial to thwart Panarin, he was steady enough to finish with 24 saves to outduel Lundqvist (4 GA on 29 shots).

Perhaps most perplexing was Quinn deciding to play McKegg for a late shift in place of Kakko, who disappeared following his holding minor on Rasmus Andersson with less than eight minutes left in regulation. This wasn’t a good decision. It was shortsighted. If this is how he’s going to coach, what’s the point of having a ‘Rebuild?’

On one hand, DQ says it’s about wins and losses. On the other, he benches our future star when he’s having his best game in weeks for a well respected veteran, who gives an honest effort. No disrespect meant towards Keg Man. I like what he brings. But he doesn’t possess the skill or talent of Kakko. It was a ridiculous move by an out of touch coach that seems in over his head. This isn’t college.

Kakko deserved more than the 12:59 he got. So did Lindgren, who following a cross-check to the back of the neck of Milan Lucic not only got the expected stickwork back. But also a cheap shot that bloodied him. Somehow, the same officials from the Edmonton debacle I heard about gave each player matching minors. How is that fair? The refs are Chris Schlenker and Brad Meier.

It gives me no joy to mention the referees. But they definitely messed up. Lucic should’ve received an extra two which would’ve negated the Flames power play. Utterly ridiculous.

Even though the shots wound up 10-9 Flames in the period, I’m not suggesting that the Rangers deserved to win or even get a point. Anytime you allow an opponent to score a shorthanded goal two men down and get consecutive unassisted breakaways, it’s embarrassing. All four Flames goals were the direct result of careless play, abysmal puck management and poor coverage by the Blueshirts.

You’re not going to win many games playing as loose as they did. If they think that’s gonna work when they visit Vancouver where former Blueshirt JT Miller is a top line player with uber talents Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, they got another thing coming. Don’t bother making the trip unless they decide to be fully committed to this winning style of hockey Quinn is referring to.

As far as Buchnevich, I have no use for a player who hates being checked and doesn’t finish checks enough. His indecisiveness and sourpuss expressions after not scoring aren’t a good look. This is a fourth-year player approaching 25. Either he gets it or they move on. Twenty-two points including only six goals in 40 games isn’t enough for the bridge deal they gave him. He should be better by now.

I don’t understand why Quinn continues to force feed him with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. KZB isn’t what it once was. Buchnevich is bringing them down. I am left with more questions about the coach as we approach the halfway point of the season. That isn’t good.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (3 🍎 in 17:58)

2nd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, Rangers (7th of season plus 🍎, +1 in 12:59)

1st 🌟 Johnny Gaudreau, Flames (11th of season plus 🍎, +1 in 17:39)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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