TORONTO — Gerard Gallant is the kind of coach who is always going to ride his stars, and Wednesday night, the Kid Line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko was sparkling.
Chytil scored both of the Rangers’ goals in regulation, during which the Czech center and his linemates were the most effective unit on the ice. They couldn’t do it all themselves, however, and the Blueshirts lost 3-2 in overtime after the Maple Leafs scored with 4:11 left in regulation and then 19 seconds into the extra period to steal the win.
At this point, the nickname of the Kid Line is a bit of a misnomer, because they’ve looked like men among men for quite some time.
“We felt good,” Chytil said. “Since the first shift, we were making plays, we were skating with the puck, we had a lot of possession, we were going to the net a lot. That’s [how] we play. That’s what we can do and what we have to do every game. We know each other very well. Great game from us, I think, but it’s still something to improve. We need to get two points next time.”
With the Rangers trailing by a goal after the first period, Chytil scored twice in the second period to pull them ahead. To knot the score at 1-1 just over two minutes into the second, Chytil sent a quick shot off the faceoff — literally as the puck was dropped — to catch both his draw adversary David Kampf and Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov off guard.
His second goal, however, wouldn’t have been possible without his linemates.
Kakko first batted down Mitchell Marner’s clearing attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone before the Finnish wing got the puck back for the Rangers. After finessing it around Maple Leafs defenseman Justin Holl, Kakko fed Chytil, who clapped a one-timer past Samsonov for the 2-1 score at 6:31.
The fact that it came against Toronto’s top line —Marner, Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting — was even more dazzling.
The Rangers’ young trio has four goals in the two games since they were reunited. They posted two Monday night against the Panthers, with Lafreniere scoring off a scrappy play at the net and Chytil scoring on an empty net to further pad the Rangers’ blowout win.
Coincidentally, it was also the second game in a row in which the Kid Line led the Rangers in even-strength ice time at 12:00, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Gallant agreed with the notion that he feels he can always go back to the Kid Line, which the coach did once it became clear the lineup was getting a bit stale. The question now is: When will they earn enough of his trust to be consistently deployed as a top-six unit?
Vitali Kravtsov and Libor Hajek were healthy scratches. It was Kravtsov’s first scratch since a stretch of three games Dec. 7-12, but Hajek’s 22nd straight game in street clothes.
Will Cuylle made his NHL debut in his home city of Toronto skating on the fourth line alongside Jake Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier.