The old adage is that you don’t mess with the lineup when you’re winning games. Sometimes, though, a minor change can help build upon solid efforts. That’s what the Rangers are hoping for. In the midst of a two-game winning streak, John Tortorella has decided to do a bit of tinkering. Returning to New York is talented winger Chris Kreider.
Kreider was called up from the Connecticut Whale after some terrific play in the AHL. In eight games with the team, he netted six goals. That’s a marked improvement for the former Boston College Eagle who has struggled offensively this season. Kreider seems to have regained a bit of confidence down in Connecticut, along with his scoring touch. Last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored and with only seven in their last five games, more goal scoring is something the Rangers could certainly use right now.
“When he started scoring some goals, there was still some things in his game that [the coaching staff] wanted him to work on. There are still some things for him that need be worked on. But the reports are good over the weekend. In the two games won, we got some really good reports on him. He’s certainly in our discussion along with number of other people. We’ll see where it goes. […] We want to make sure if we [call him up], we feel he’s ready to play,” Tortorella said, as reported by the Bergen Record.
The Massachusetts native started the season in the AHL, scoring just five goals and registering seven assists in his first 34 games. Kreider joined the Rangers once the lockout ended, but his lack of output continued. His only points – a goal and an assist – came in back to back games against the Devils and Islanders in early February. He’s averaged over ten minutes per game this season in New York, but saw his ice time cut in each of his last four games with the Blueshirts. In his last game, a loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden, he was held to only 4:33 of ice time.
Hopefully, during Kreider’s time in the AHL, John Tortorella’s also found a bit more patience to let the skilled forward generate offense without fear of being benched for the smallest mistake. He’s shown that he can loosen the leash in the way he’s handled rookie J.T. Miller. Let’s see if the same freedom is granted to Kreider upon his return to the lineup – especially having worked on rounding out his game a bit in the minors. To be effective, he needs to play without fear of riding pine for the rest of the game. He also needs ice time, which may be challenging to find on the top two lines. Most likely, Kreider will slot into the Rangers’ third line alongside J.T. Miller and Brian Boyle. Taylor Pyatt, scoreless in 11 straight games, should drop to the fourth line to line up with Halpern and Powe.
To make room for Kreider, fourth-line forward Micheal Haley has been returned to the Whale. In nine games with the Rangers, Haley was held scoreless. He played a strong, physical game and posted 12 penalty minutes – a total that included scraps against Chris Phillips and Mark Stuart.
Teams might not want to change lineups when they’re winning, but the Rangers’ wins were far from impressive, with a shootout victory and a one-goal win over a struggling 39-year-old backup currently riding a career-worst .886 save percentage. In order to keep winning, change may be in order – especially a change that will help the team score more goals. Hopefully, Kreider will do just that.