When Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko stepped onto the ice together Tuesday, it was the first time any of the three had played a playoff game outside of the NHL’s 2020 postseason bubble.
Lafreniere has been up and down this season. Kakko spent much of the second half of the season rehabbing injuries. The Kid Line played a grand total of 28:13 together during the regular season. It was fair to wonder how well they would jell.
And, though Rangers coach Gerard Gallant sheltered their matchups at the Garden in Games 1 and 2 of the playoff series with the Penguins — which he won’t be able to do to the same extent when Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has the last change in Games 3 and 4 — the kids have been quite all right.
“Good solid hockey,” Gallant said following an optional practice Friday. “I think they’ve played good. They’ve created some scoring chances. Last night for some reason, they only played 10 or 11 minutes. And I guess I’m the coach, but I thought they played more than that. It’s just the way the game felt. … For a Kid Line going up against the lines they’re playing against, I’m real happy with them.”
The trio was less noticeable in game 2 on Thursday than they had been in Game 1, when they played an impressive 17:55 (albeit with more than one learning moment in the buildup to Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal). The three, however, have been a big part of the reason why the Rangers are keeping all but one of Pittsburgh’s forward lines quiet.
A fair amount of attention has been devoted to Sidney Crosby’s line, and with good reason. But the Penguins’ other three forward lines, centered by Malkin, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger, have combined for one goal in two games.
When that point was brought up to Gallant on Friday, I answered the question in terms of Crosby’s line, which continues to be a problem. Three players, though, cannot win a playoff series.
“They got two other lines that are real good lines, too,” Gallant said. “Their second and third lines are real talented lines. Their fourth line’s a good worker, they do their job the way they played the game, but their second and third lines are real talented, too.”
Added Jacob Trouba: “Obviously it’s great that the other three lines haven’t put up as many points, but at the same time, one line’s scored a lot of goals. But that line’s scored goals all year. You’re not gonna just turn off the chances.”
Gallant is not one to obsess over matchups, but the dynamic will change on Saturday. That goes for the Chytil line in particular, which could begin to see more time against the Penguins’ line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
“They’re gonna get their chances,” Mika Zibanejad said. “I don’t think you’re gonna be able to completely stop them, but it’s all over the ice. They’re a good transition team, too, as well and that line especially. Be smart with the puck and don’t give them anything for free, really. Make them earn it and I think that’s the way you have to approach it.”
Zibanejad’s line, along with the group of Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin, have been Gallant’s go-tos for the minutes against Crosby’s line thus far. In an easier test, the Kids played well enough to believe a lack of experience.
“That’s kinda up to you guys to write about that and you guys to talk about it,” Zibanejad said. “We don’t talk about it. And I think there’s some more than others, obviously, there’s always guys on teams that haven’t played — have zero to very little experience in the playoffs — and I think it’s just the guys that haven’t played much in the playoffs.
“It’s good to see them just play and don’t worry about it.”