Kaapo Kahkonen is making changes to his game.
The San Jose Sharks goalie has struggled this season, evidenced by his .877 Save %. He was pulled from his last game against the Vancouver Canucks back on Dec. 7. Since then, rookie Eetu Makiniemi and James Reimer have taken the load, guiding the Sharks to two wins and a shootout loss.
But after a little more than a week off, Kahkonen’s going to get another chance tonight against the Calgary Flames.
Head Coach David Quinn talked to the media about Kahkonen after practice on Dec. 8.
“I think he’s a legitimate No. 1 goalie in his league,” Quinn told San Jose Hockey Now. “He wants to be better. We want him to be better. There are peaks and valleys when you’re a young goalie in the National Hockey League, and I think asking him to make some additions to the way he plays sometimes takes a little longer for goalies than others.”
SJHN did ask Quinn what those additions would be, but he said that he would keep that between him, Kahkonen, Sharks director of goaltending Evgeni Nabokov, and goaltending coach Thomas Speer.
“Whether you play in a junior league, or minors, or in the NHL, you’re obviously always working on stuff,” Kahkonen said after the Dec. 8 practice. “Certainly, for me, there’s been a few things we’ve been trying to focus on, but also [things] I’ve seen in my game, [that] we worked on a little bit, things that I want us to work on more.”
Confidence has been used, by Quinn, when describing what Kahkonen is searching for this season. Whether it has been Kahkonen himself or the San Jose Sharks coaching staff, everyone recognizes that the Finish netminder needs to find his game.
Kahkonen has kept his head focused on his game and isn’t worried at all about the trust of the coaching staff. He knows that he just needs to stop shots, and the rest will follow.
“Honestly, I don’t really care who trusts me or not. I think I have to trust myself that I do the job and trust that the next guy does his job. That’s the way a team works, in my opinion,” Kahkonen said. “I don’t think there’s another way around it. It’s just hard work every day.”
Kahkonen also discussed what he’s been working on.
“Making a save is actually going to feel good and look easy, if that makes any sense,” Kahkonen said. “Otherwise, if you’re scrambling, then you can’t get there before the puck gets there, then you’re going to either see goals or some sort of stretching and then dive in and stuff like that.”
A well-known phrase amongst hockey players is, “look good, feel good, play good,” and that’s what Kahkonen is trying to do. He has shown flashes this season of that confidence and ability. For example, his 29-save shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 29.
“I’m feeling good. Five days practicing in a row. We’ve skated a lot, and that’s what I asked from [Nabokov] and [Speer] to do,” Kahkonen told SJHN after practice on Dec. 15. “Just a lot of different movements in the crease and focus on beating plays on my feet and being in control and very basic and boring.”
Kahkonen explained that he was working on getting from point A to B and ensuring that he was square to shots while still being in control.
“If you just have the stubbornness, I guess you could call it that, [or the] mindset that you’re going to get it right,” Kahkonen said. “It’s going to work, and I think that’s [how] goaltending works. There’s no magic trick. You cannot play well if you don’t practice well.”
For what it’s worth, his veteran battery mate Reimer sees him.
“He works his butt off. He’s on the ice today, an hour before everyone else,” Reimer shared. “He cares. He cares about his game. You don’t get here by accident.”
We’ll see tonight if Kahkonen’s work will start to pay off.
SAN JOSE SHARKS (10-16-6)
Kaapo Kahkonen will get the start tonight. David Quinn will meet with the media two hours before puck drop to discuss any other line-up changes — Matt Nieto is a possibility.
This is how the Sharks lined up last night:
#SJSharks lines tonight, Barabanov back, Reimer starts:
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 18, 2022
CALGARY FLAMES (13-12-6)
For all your Calgary Flames coverage, check out Calgary Hockey Now.
Here’s how the Flames lined up on Dec. 16 against the St. Louis Blues:
#Flames projected tonight vs. St. Louis:
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) December 16, 2022
WHERE TO WATCH
The San Jose Sharks will take on the Calgary Flames at 7 PM PST at SAP Center. Watch it live on NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.
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