Connect with us

San Jose Sharks

Kahkonen Responds to McKenna’s Critique of His Game



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Are we seeing the real Kaapo Kahkonen right now?

In mid-December, amidst a slow Kahkonen start to the season, we started hearing that the 26-year-old netminder was making some “additions” to his game.

“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 shared then with San Jose Hockey Now.

Preview/Lines #33: In Week Off, What Adjustments Has Kahkonen Made?

Before the All-Star break, I caught up with the Daily Faceoff’s Mike McKenna to talk about Kahkonen and James Reimer’s seasons so far.

The veteran goaltender, 477 AHL and 35 NHL games under his belt, agreed that Kahkonen had to work on his technique. When McKenna and I talked, the young netminder had a 5-9-4 record with an .869 Save % and -20.67 Goals Saved Above Expected, both stats second-worst in the league.

“It’s not a play your way out of it thing. It’s not as simple as just trying harder mentally,” McKenna opined. “He’s got to make adjustments to how he plays, and I think it’s going to all start with width and depth. He’s got to play closer to home and a little more upright.”

Mike McKenna Thinks Kahkonen Needs ‘Complete Structural Rebuild’

So what did Kahkonen think of McKenna’s critique?

Kahkonen, actually, agreed: “You want to be square to the puck, take away as much net as you can. Be on your angle.”

He stressed the mental side of his tweaks as much as the physical side, “You have to read it first. Once you make a right read, it’s way easier.”

Kahkonen illustrated: “Now you’re reading the situation, you read there’s a guy open on the other side of the rink, I think maybe you take a step back. So when the pass is made, you’re reading, you’re seeing it, you’re able to get across and be square.

“[Whereas] if you’re way too aggressive on the guy with the puck, and that guy [on the other side of the rink] is wide open and you’re not reading that, then he makes it the pass and you’re chasing it.

“Then you’re not square and then you’re not set.”

But it all goes back to the initial read for Kahkonen.

“[Outsiders say] he’s great pushing side to side, and he’s so explosive and athletic getting across. It’s because he knew [the puck is] gonna go there because he read it,” he said. “But if you don’t read, you don’t understand it, you’re not getting across because you’re late. Then you’re chasing.”

To his credit, Kahkonen’s tweaks seem to be manifesting themselves in game. Since Jan. 28, he’s 3-3-0 with a .925 Save % and a +7.16 GSAx. Per Evolving Hockey, that’s actually the second-best GSAx in the NHL over the last three weeks.

McKenna has noticed too, tweeting after Kahkonen’s 35-save performance in a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last Thursday night, “I was so impressed. He played almost entire game in the blue paint. He was able to rotate efficiently and presented much bigger with a more upright stance. Rarely out of position. Patient. Nearly stole the game.”

The commentator also credited San Jose Sharks goaltending coach Thomas Speer, who’s been working a lot with Kahkonen during practice.

“I think myself with the goalie coaches, we’re starting to find the same page in key areas, the way we think,” Kahkonen shared, also citing director of goaltending Evgeni Nabokov. “It’s been good.”

Now Kahkonen didn’t agree with everything that McKenna said about his game. What are “tweaks” to Kahkonen, to use his phrase, is a “complete structural rebuild” to McKenna.

But both netminders agree that Kahkonen had to alter his game – and most importantly, both agree that he’s doing it.

“I wouldn’t maybe say a complete rebuild. That’s maybe a little too aggressive,” Kahkonen mused. “But he’s not wrong, I kind of discovered those few areas that I needed to work on.”

No less than the future of San Jose Sharks goaltending is at stake.

The Sharks organization, at the moment, only has one goalie signed beyond this season, Kahkonen with a $2.75 million AAV next year. Trade Deadline candidate Reimer is a UFA, as is veteran NHL-AHL tweener Aaron Dell. Prospects Eetu Makiniemi, Strauss Mann, and Zachary Emond are RFAs.

Since winning the 2020 Baz Bastien Memorial Award for AHL goaltender of the year, Kahkonen has been trying to prove to the Minnesota Wild, and now the Sharks, that he’s more than a talented NHL back-up.

A flourish to end this season would certainly be proof of life.

Welcome to your new home for San Jose Sharks breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to SJHN+ for all of our members-only content from Sheng Peng and the National Hockey Now network plus an ad-free browsing experience.

Sheng’s Travel Fund

Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.

Click here to contribute to Sheng's travel pool!

Get SJHN in your inbox!

Enter your email address to get all of our articles delivered directly to your inbox.

Hockey Shots

Extra Hour Hockey Training

Cathy’s Power Skating

Sharks Team & Cap Info

SJHN on Facebook