Minnesota Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen has fallen into a more traditional backup role over the past month or so. It’s much different than earlier this season when the 24-year-old rookie had some thinking he should be the unquestioned starter between the pipes.
There was a month long stretch in which Kahkonen boasted a perfect 9-0-0 record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He posted those impressive numbers while fellow goaltender Cam Talbot was off the ice nursing a couple of different injuries.
Though it looked like the Wild might have to split time between their two goaltenders down the stretch, Talbot has started to round into form as of late, making it impossible to take him out of the lineup. That has come at the expense of Kahkonen, who has lost his past couple of starts, and he has looked a little shaky compared to his performance a month and a half ago.
How has Kahkonen stayed sharp in the meantime?
“We’ve been staying on a little longer with (goaltending coach Freddy Chabot) and a couple of the extra guys,” Kahkonen said. “We aren’t talking about anything crazy here. It’s like 10 or 15 minutes after the morning skate, and those are pretty short anyway, so it’s not physically that tough for me to stay out there a little longer. It’s good for mentally to keep working on small things and little details in my game.”
All in the name of staying ready. He got the nod in Friday’s game against the Blues in St. Louis, and the importance of the matchup wasn’t lost on him.
“It’s crunch time,” Kahkonen said. “There’s not many games left. Just trying to get out there and do my best to help our team get a win. That’s the only goal for me on any night.”
Asked about his struggles in recent losses to Colorado and San Jose, Kahkonen said he doesn’t think his game has changed much at all. He also has made a point to maintain the same approach whether he’s playing every other night or every week and a half.
“Just trying to do the same thing,” he said. “Just be patient and try to help the blue line out as much as I can by talking and communicating and playing the puck.”
As for his current role, Kahkonen is trying to make the most of it.
“It’s the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “Just have to be ready whenever it’s my turn to be in the net.”
Marcus Foligno (lower-body injury) traveled with the Wild on the road trip and participated in Friday’s morning skate. Though he won’t play in Friday’s game, Foligno’s presence on the road trip is a good sign as he works his way back into the mix. Nick Bjugstad (upper-body jury) did not travel.