New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider has the ability to look like the best player on the ice, strangely enough, he also has bouts where he goes missing. If the Rangers don’t get the Kreider they need, they won’t be getting through the second round of the playoffs.
Kreider has been a bit of an enigma for this team, since becoming a full-time forward. He has blazing speed, tremendous strength, a good hard shot, and a nose for the net. When he is at his best he’s forcing the issue and finishing checks, but at times, like game 3 for example, he stops hitting, and the rest of his game fades.
Through the first half of game 3, Kreider was flying around the ice, hitting everything in sight and trying to take the puck to the net with authority. But as the game progressed, he wasn’t as physical, and subsequently, his game faded from great to just good. Without Kreider playing his game the Rangers offense flounders. For the Rangers to have success they will need the winger to be stronger in front of the net, and better at backing off the defense.
Kreider Being Physical
Kreider does still lead the Rangers in hits with 31. While this is a good output, his game in front of the goal tender has been lacking. He is one of the few Rangers forwards who possesses the size and ability to create havoc in front of the goal, but to this point, he’s been something of a non factor. Of course, credit Washington’s back-end for protecting the house. If the Rangers are going to start scoring, it will have to be with the guy who’s 6’3, 226 ibs, standing in front of the net.
For the big winger to be successful, he will have to get aggressive, initiate contact, and start creating more space for himself. So lets take a look at how Washington is keeping the Rangers out.
Kreider gets to the front, but Staal’s shot is blocked, so he leaves to try to support the play. Watch Karl Alzner (number 27) in front when the video reaches 7 seconds. He does an excellent job of keeping Kreider from getting back to the front of the net, resulting in an easy save for Braden Holtby. For future success, Kreider has to not leave the front of the net the first time, also Marc Staal can try to hang on to the puck and give Kreider more time to get into position.
All the way back in 2013 when Alain Vigneault was still getting used to the Rangers, he spoke about Chris Kreider’s ability to the media, “Speed, size. You can see we are trying to use him on the PP in front of the net, big body, if he ever becomes comfortable at doing that, it’s so tough on the goalie and helps the PP so much. It helps 5 on 5 so much if you have a guy going to the net and is gonna stay there and take the goalies eyes away. The goalie can’t stop what he can’t see. When you have a guy with that willingness it really helps you out offensively.” This statement still applies to the Rangers and Kreider now. He’s in a slightly different role, but there is no doubt that the Rangers want to see him utilize his physical gifts.
Splitting the Defense
Kreider is one of the few players in the NHL who has the ability to burn top flight defenders with just a twinge of space. Watch the video below, and notice how he gets a little lane in the middle of the ice and blows right past Dustin Byfuglien.
This series, Kreider has been trying to use that speed, but he is often stuck on the boards, and all the defender has to do is hold the middle. Again give Washington credit, because they are aware of what he can do, and are defending him the right way. The clip below shows exactly what I’m talking about.
Kreider has all of his space negated in the neutral zone, so he tries the other side. He gets to the middle here, but is completely surrounded by the defense. This again results in an easy save for Holtby. The only way the Rangers can get that sling shot play to work through this defense, would be to try it closer to Washington’s blue line. This way the defense is caught flat-footed. Of course this strategy is also riskier, if the play breaks, Washington will have a good opportunity going the other way.
I would say that to this point the Rangers have been able to implement their style, and really have controlled large stretches of the games. The Capitals just know what their good at, and are trying to limit the time and space. I think the Rangers will end up taking this series, as long as they tweak their game. I fully expect Kreider to bring his A game on Wednesday night, and if that happens it will be tough to keep the Rangers from putting up goals.