This did not quite work out exactly as Keith Kinkaid had hoped, but the goaltender played well enough in Tuesday’s 3-2 defeat in Pittsburgh in his first NHL start in 465 days that he might earn another one somewhat quickly.
Indeed, presuming Igor Shesterkin is not fully recovered from the groin strain he sustained last Thursday in New Jersey, it’s possible Kinkaid could get the call over the struggling Alex Georgiev for a second straight time when the Blueshirts move to Boston for the first of a two-game set on Thursday.
“I’ve been hoping for a break,” Kinkaid said before making 23 saves in his first start since Nov. 30, 2019 as a member of the Canadiens. “You hate to see the way that it happened but I plan on taking absolute control of this opportunity and prove that I belong in this league.”
Kinkaid, composed and economical, was sharp pretty much throughout. His strong work early allowed the Rangers to first gain their equilibrium and then the lead at 1-0 when Jack Johnson scored from the left point at 9:16 of the first period when his drive glanced in off John Marino’s leg.
But the Blueshirts were unable to build momentum off the goal. Rather, the Penguins responded, knotting the match at 18:54 of the first when Jake Guentzel snapped one through from the left side after Ryan Lindgren broke his stick on an attempted breakout
Teddy Blueger took advantage of two-on-two coverage confusion to beat K’Andre Miller to the net from the left side before sliding a backhand through Kinkaid for a shorthanded goal and a 2-1 lead at 2:40. Kasperi Kapanen increased the lead to 3-1 at 19:40 of the period with a snap shot from the slot on an extended shift on which the Penguins owned the puck below the hash marks.
The Blueshirts cut the margin to 3-2 on Ryan Strome’s power-play goal at 3:18 of the third when his attempted pass to Chris Kreider banked in off — yes — Marino’s skate. And though the Rangers’ third period was their best of the night, they could not generate the tying goal.
The 31-year-old Kinkaid, who shares a birthday with George Steinbrenner and Uncle Sam, made 132 starts with the Devils over the five-year stretch from 2014-15 through 2018-19 while compiling an overall record of 64-55-17 with a .906 save percentage and 2.90 GAA.
But the netminder’s game went sideways following that, going 15-18-6/.891/3.36 the following year while eased out with the emergence of Mackenzie Blackwood. Kinkaid spent much of last season in the AHL after signing during the summer of 2019 as a free agent with Montreal, for whom he started five times in October and November.
The goaltender, who hails from Suffolk County’s Farmingville, signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Rangers on Oct. 9. The Blueshirts wanted a veteran third in the organization but also needed a goaltender under contract for 2021-22 they could expose in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft to meet league requirements.
“It’s an incredible opportunity. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and feel really ready,” said Kinkaid, who has spent most of the year on the taxi squad sandwiched around two victorious starts for the AHL Wolf Pack in which he allowed two goals on 52 shots. “I’ve learned a lot the last few years and Benny has helped me tremendously along the way here.”
Kinkaid was of course referencing Blueshirts goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who has the universal attention and respect of those netminders he has tutored through his distinguished career, the last 17 years of which he has spent with the organization.
“I don’t think I went through too much adversity in my career leading up to [2019-20], we’d made the playoffs with the Devils, and I guess you really do learn more about yourself and, you know, the ups and downs of the league at that top-tier level all the time,” Kinkaid said. “I think that Benny has definitely helped me confidence-wise and technical-wise.”
David Quinn reiterated he had considered going with Kinkaid to start on Sunday after Georgiev had been so-so in Saturday’s 6-3 victory over the Devils. This one, though, was a slam dunk following Kinkaid’s strong work in 38:50 of relief against the Penguins in which he surrendered two goals on 18 shots.
“I thought Kinkaid earned the opportunity,” said Quinn. “He’s got a good track record against Pittsburgh, his play on Sunday, he’s looked really good in practices and at this point in time, with Shesty’s situation or even in general, you need three goalies and not just two because you never know from an injury standpoint.
“So I think it’s important to get him into a game, but not just get him into a game, because he’s earned the opportunity. If we didn’t like what we saw, we certainly wouldn’t come back with him.”
Noe the question is whether Quinn will come back to Kinkaid on Thursday.