Kostka suffered a nightmarish debut in front of home fans on October 14 against the rival Islanders. The 28-year-old blue liner made two turnovers that were cashed in by the Isles near the second intermission and the start of the third period.
A game that the Rangers had been leading 2-1 suddenly swung in the opposite direction. Kostka’s errors allowed the Isles grab a 3-2 lead and all the momentum. When the damage was done, the Isles had clobbered the Blueshirts 6-3.
Some coaches would have washed their hands of Kostka following his blunder-filled debut by sending him packing with a one-way ticket to minors. Not Alain Vigneault.
The never-panicking bench boss did not want to kill Kostka’s confidence by exorcising him to AHL Hartford. Kostka is thankful for Vigneault’s faith.
“It’s always nice to know that your coach is behind you at any point in time,” Kostka said. “It instills confidence in you on top some that you already have. It’s nice to know that they’re pushing for you, and you’re not fighting against the system.”
Kostka knew his horrific debut showing was far below his capabilities.
“I have my own internal measuring stick as to how I feel I can play,” Kostka said. “Obviously, after my first game, I wasn’t happy with how that went.”
In his next appearance against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, the Rangers desperately needed Kostka to step up after top-four defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein suffered game-ending injuries. Kostka ended up logging 21:56 TOI. He registered three shots, blocked three shots and delivered three hits in Rangers’ 1-0 overtime defeat.
“It was nice to get another opportunity,” Kostka said. “I feel like I played a lot more like I can. It’s pretty rare – especially that early in the game to lose two of your top defensemen. It was a little bit of a unique situation. Everyone in our d-core is in excellent shape. Given the circumstances, everyone stepped up.”
Kostka has remained even-keeled after his first two games with the Rangers put him under an intense microscope.
“I think in anything we do, there’s ups and downs,” Kostka said. “At times, you’re gonna go through struggles and what not. The biggest thing is learning from that and learning what you can do to make sure you don’t go through the same struggles again. That’s life, that’s anything you do. It’s not always going to be as awesome as you’d like it to be. If you take the opportunity, you can learn from those low times.”
The Rangers will be without McDonagh for three-to-four weeks due to a left shoulder separation. Dan Boyle’s return is a least one week away. John Moore still has four games remaining on his suspension. Klein’s timetable is yet to be determined. All of this means that the Rangers will have to lean on Kostka for the time being.
“Despite there being some injuries, you can’t really think too far ahead,” Kostka said. “I’m always just really focused about taking it game-by-game.”