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GAME DAY: Blueshirts Face 'True Test' In Sunshine State

Quinn Letting Kakko Just Play; Georgie Starts in Tampa

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at LIGHTNING, 7pm
Amalie Arena
MSG Network, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
There came a point sometime back in October -- Kaapo Kakko's first month as an 18-year-old in the National Hockey League -- when it occurred to David Quinn that the most valuable teaching moment of all just might involve a little less teaching.

"About 2½ weeks ago I told him I wasn't going to talk to him anymore," Quinn said on Wednesday. "I'm not joking when I say that. I literally felt that as a staff, we really wanted him to be good so fast, and all of us were spending a lot of time with him, and you just could see it in his face. Finally I just told the whole staff and him, 'The only thing I'm going to say to you is hello.'"

Now in mid-November, Quinn says he sees something entirely different in Kakko's face, specifically "a lot more smiling and a lot more swagger." And why not -- all of a sudden Kakko has six goals through 16 NHL games, five of them coming in the last seven matches, of which the Rangers have won five.

"The one thing I will say (to Kakko): 'I'll talk about effort and being physical, those are the only two things we'll talk about. But we've got to let you play.' I think that might have helped a little bit, but I also think, you know, adapting to the NHL is hard for any 18-year-old. So sometimes the best coaching is no coaching, and I think this is an example of that."

Whatever else Quinn isn't doing these days, the Head Coach and the Rangers should keep on not doing it. Quinn's Blueshirts head out on a two-game swing to Florida 5-1-1 in their seven games since losing Mika Zibanejad to an upper-body injury. Their latest victory came on the strength Kakko's first multi-goal game in the NHL -- goals No. 5 and 6, most by any 18-year-old in the League.

"There's definitely more of a well-rounded game -- it's not just about the points," Quinn said. "There's a reason he's getting rewarded offensively: it's because of the way he's approaching the game, the things that he's been doing away from the puck."

Kakko's and the Rangers' coinciding runs began with a 4-1 Garden win over Tampa Bay that was a lot like Tuesday's Garden win over Pittsburgh, in that it was propelled by some of the youngest Rangers of all: Kakko scored on a power play, Filip Chytil scored in his first game up from Hartford, and Adam Fox put the game away with his first NHL goal.

Fox's put Tuesday's game away, too, with a masterful setup for Kakko on the 3-on-3 winner, and also scored late in the first to stake the Blueshirts to a 2-0 advantage. Once Pittsburgh erased that in the second, Quinn was encouraged by how his Rangers regrouped during second intermission, played a better third and won a hockey game, which the Coach called "a good sign."

"There was a little bit more focus," Quinn said, "a little bit more, 'Okay, let's get back to business.'"

"I think early on, when we maybe lost a lead or we're down in a game, we might have buckled," said Fox, who has points in five straight games and was part of a plus-4 pairing on Tuesday with Ryan Lindgren. "Now we've got a resiliency and kind of that mindset that we come right back."

It also helped to have Alexandar Georgiev stopping all 13 pucks he saw after second intermission, good for Georgiev's fourth win of the season. Quinn plans to split his goaltenders on the Florida trip, starting on Thursday night with Georgiev, who has won three of four, including his 29-save win over Tampa on Oct. 29.

In Thursday's rematch he'll face a Lightning team playing its first game in five days since returning from Stockholm -- two wins over the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL Global Series -- and its first home game since Oct. 26 following a 2½-week road trip that began on Broadway. The Blueshirts, meanwhile, are embarking on their first multi-city trip of 2019-20, and a stretch in which they play 11 of 16 games away from the Garden.

"Teams need these trips," Quinn said. "I think a lot of us wish we had something like this a little bit earlier."

Last year's Presidents' Trophy winners have had plenty of these trips during a rollercoaster start: Their Swedish sweep of the Sabres represented Tampa Bay's first back-to-back non-shootout wins of 2019-20. Pat Maroon, injured in a first-period scrap with Micheal Haley at the Garden, returned in Stockholm and scored twice in the second game, Maroon's first multi-goal game since two teams and two years ago, when he was an Oiler in January of 2018.

But Jon Cooper's club feels the time to stabilize themselves is now, with nine of their next 13 games on home ice, where they are 3-1-1 this season and 64-18-5 since the start of 2017-18.

"I think Florida's a great team too -- we've got a tall task in front of us," said Quinn, whose Rangers wrap up the two-game swing against the Panthers on Saturday in Sunrise. "And obviously Tampa, everybody knows what Tampa can be. So this is a true test."

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 72 Chytil -- 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux -- 21 Howden -- 24 Kakko
14 McKegg -- 28 Andersson -- 42 Smith

25 Hajek -- 8 Trouba
76 Skjei -- 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox

40 Georgiev
30 Lundqvist

LIGHTNING
7 Joseph -- 9 Johnson -- 91 Stamkos
18 Palat -- 21 Point -- 86 Kucherov
17 Killorn -- 71 Cirelli -- 37 Gourde
14 Maroon -- 13 Paquette -- 23 Verhaeghe

77 Hedman -- 22 Shattenkirk
27 McDonagh -- 81 Cernak
98 Sergachev -- 2 Schenn

88 Vasilevskiy
35 McElhinney


NUMBERS GAME

On Tuesday against the Penguins, Kaapo Kakko became the first 18-year-old in Rangers history to score multiple goals in a game.

Rangers leading scorer Artemi Panarin has 4-9--13 during a nine-game point streak, tied for the longest streak of his career.

Since Oct. 24, the Rangers have scored 35 goals in nine games. Only the Bruins (38 in nine games) and Capitals (36 in nine) have scored more in that stretch.

Eight of the Rangers' last 10 goals have been scored by players age 21 or younger.

Tampa Bay ranks seventh in the League at 3.40 goals per game; the Rangers are eighth at 3.38.

Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat each share the Lightning lead with five goals apiece, the League's lowest total of any team leader in goals. Stamkos has one goal in the last nine games, but scored four times in three games against the Rangers last season.

Tampa's penalty kill, the League leader a season ago at 85 percent, sits in a tie for 25th at 75 percent so far this year, with no shorthanded goals (12 last season).

The Rangers have scored first in six straight games and 12 of 16 this season; Tampa Bay has allowed the first goal in 10 of their 15 games. In the teams' Oct. 29 meeting, the Lightning scored first in a 4-1 Ranger win. 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Filip Chytil's assist on Tuesday gave him four goals and five points in his seven NHL games this season, and the Rangers are 4-0-1 when he's on the scoresheet. Chytil has scored twice in four games vs. Tampa, including his first NHL goal on March 30, 2018.

Yanni Gourde has goals in three straight games, and four points in the span. Both his goals in Sweden were game-winners.

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