Kaapo Kahkonen’s first two starts with the Sharks after the March 21 trade deadline were against the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. Kahkonen was busy in both games, looking sharp at times, but also allowing four goals from both teams’ powerful attacks.
“Like I said after the game in Edmonton, good isn’t good enough in this league,” Kahkonen said March 31 after stopping 42 of 46 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche. who scored three goals in the third period. .
“I don’t want to be the good keeper. I want to be the guy who makes the difference and keeps this game closer at the end. »
It’s fair to say that Kahkonen has taken his game to another level this month, as he currently looks like someone who could easily fit into the Sharks’ long-term plans.
On Saturday, Kahkonen helped the Sharks overcome a sloppy first period from a puck-handling perspective and finished with 27 saves in what became a 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center.
“We made a lot of mistakes early in the game,” said Sharks winger Timo Meier, who had a goal and an assist. “There was a 10-minute stretch that was horrible where we had a lot of turnovers. And (Kahkonen) really defended us and bailed us out.
Kahkonen is now 2-2-1 in his last five starts with a .943 save percentage. In seven appearances this month, he has a 2.36 goals-against average.
Kahkonen could play again as early as Tuesday when the Sharks host the Anaheim Ducks in their final home game of the season. San Jose then wraps up the year with road games against Edmonton and Seattle on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
“The only period off (Kahkonen) could have had with us, maybe that Dallas game at home. We weren’t good in front of him, but they were leading 4-1,” coach Bob Boughner said of the Sharks’ April 2 game against the Stars, a 5-4 loss at San Jose where Kahkonen stopped. 10 of 14 shots and was relieved by James Reimer.
“But other than that I thought even in his losses he fought hard and some nights he had a lot of work to do. So I think he’s done a great job since coming here.
The question for the Sharks, however, is how they will proceed with their goalkeeping situation for next season.
Reimer, who will start Sunday’s game with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Adin Hill have one year left on their respective contracts. Reimer, 34, has received more starts this season and has solid numbers with a .913 save percentage in 46 games.
Hill was out with injury for most of the second half of the season but has also been terrific at times, and at 25 he is just starting to hit his peak.
Kahkonen, also 25, is expected to become a restricted free agent with officiating rights. But the Sharks probably wouldn’t have acquired him from the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Jake Middleton last month only to let him walk in the offseason.
Sharks interim general manager Joe Will said the team likely won’t have three goaltenders in the NHL roster this fall. But right now, it looks like Kahkonen, judging by his performance, will likely be one of the two goalkeepers left.
“I think it fits well in our bedroom,” Boughner said. “He’s a good guy and he works hard on rest days, he works hard in training, he’s a good teammate and he’s just a good guy to be around, so that’s also important.”
REMARK: Boughner said on Saturday forward John Leonard still suffered a deep bruise on his leg after he blocked a shot from Evan Bouchard during the Sharks’ game against Edmonton on April 5.
Boughner said Leonard skated earlier this week but still wasn’t able to play, adding the shot “went through” Leonard’s shin guard.
“There’s nothing broken, nothing fractured, but it’s such a deep bruise that (Leonard) has trouble generating any sort of push or power cut,” Boughner said.