The scoring touch came back, and so did the smile.
Kaapo Kakko’s grin was ear-to-ear Sunday night after scoring his first goal in more than a month, which proved to be the game-winner in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the Kings at the Garden.
“[It felt] so good after so, so long time,” Kakko said. “Hopefully many more goals are coming. It helps so much.”
The Rangers’ No. 2 pick had gone 13 straight games without a goal, with his last one coming Jan. 2 in Calgary. But he was in the right spot midway through the third period Sunday night, out in front of the net to receive a backhanded pass from Filip Chytil, which Kakko finished off on a one-timer to put the Rangers up 2-0.
“It was a good battle from Philly [Di Giuseppe] in the corner against two guys,” Chytil said. “The puck gets to me and I saw Kaapo in front of the net, so I just passed it between the D’s legs and he scored. It was a nice goal.”
Kakko had started Friday’s game against the Sabres on the fourth line before earning his way up the lineup by the end of the night. Sunday, the 18-year-old had another strong game on the third line with Chytil and Di Giuseppe.
“He’ll smile more,” coach David Quinn said. “He’s got a little [Pavel] Buchnevich in him in that regard. I just like the fact that he’s going to the net. The assist he got the other night was around the net. He’s been around the net more. He gets a goal being at the net. He’s just playing with more pace and confidence. He’s been much better defensively the last few games. He’s played well.”
Di Giuseppe picked up his first points in a Rangers uniform, recording a pair of assists while delivering six hits in 11:41. It was his fourth straight game in the lineup since being called up from AHL Hartford.
“I just like his speed. I like his purpose. I like his intentions,” Quinn said. “He’s been physical. He’s given us some energy for sure.
“I really liked Di Giuseppe, Chytil and Kakko. They played really well tonight.”
Alexandar Georgiev was a healthy scratch with Henrik Lundqvist backing up Igor Shesterkin. Brendan Smith also watched from the press box for the third straight game. … The Rangers improved to 17-6-0 in their last 23 games that immediately followed regulation or overtime losses.