There are numerous reasons why the New York Rangers find themselves mired in a slump that has seen them pick up just three victories in their past 13 games. Chief among them is their defense and glaring coverage issues, which my colleague Steven Loffredo has already detailed.
Another issue, however, is that the Blueshirts are not getting nearly enough production from supposed top-six forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
Kreider Looking for Answers
Prior to the start of this season, I wrote that the Rangers needed Kreider to become a top-tier goal-scorer, and that he seemed poised to take that next step. Coming off a career-high 21 goals and 46 points in the 2014-15 regular season, as well as a strong playoff performance that included some clutch tallies, everything seemed to be set up for the hulking yet speedy 24-year-old winger.
Several months later, Kreider has not come close to meeting those expectations. Through 34 games, he has just five goals and 10 assists. He has appeared tentative throughout the season, as he has not consistently used his unique combination of size, strength, and speed to power his way to the front of the net. Instead, he has settled for low-percentage perimeter shots.
To his credit, Kreider has owned up to his miserable campaign.
“It has been about as bad as it can be, and it is nobody’s fault but my own,” Kreider said back in late November. “Everyone in here has been supportive, the coaches have given me every opportunity in every way. It’s on me.” (New York Post)
Weeks later though, Kreider has still not been able to find further answers to his struggles, and thus he has yet to get on a roll and light the lamp consistently. The Rangers have survived offensively to this point, thanks mostly to Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash (who has found his goal-scoring touch after a slow start), and rookie Oscar Lindberg. But if they are going to do anything meaningful this season, Kreider is going to have to be a big part of it.
He is too talented and too physically imposing to be essentially invisible as often as he has been. Struggling to score is one thing, but not having a noticeable impact on the game is even worse. That is what Kreider is fighting through this season, and the longer it goes on, the more he might be overthinking his game. New York will need him to snap out of it soon.
Hayes Also Not Making Impact for Rangers
23-year-old NHL sophomore Kevin Hayes is another player who was expected to take another step in his development this year for the Rangers. The 6’5″ center/winger was impressive last year in his rookie season, tallying 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists), including 30 points in the final 41 games.
With the departures of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin, Hayes, in addition to Kreider, was one of the players the Blueshirts were hoping could fill the offensive void. Hayes, however, has not fared much better than his fellow Boston College alum, Kreider. He has just six goals and 11 assists on the season.
His talent is clearly evident, as he can use his big body to shield opponents from the puck, as well as his incredible stick-handling and passing skills to make highlight-reel plays. That said, Hayes often appears to suffer from overthinking and not being decisive enough — yet another trait he shares with Kreider.
Hayes really needs to simplify his game right now. You can tell his brain is going 1,000 MPH. Kid just needs to play. Stop thinking.
— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) October 19, 2015
Most Rangers fans probably do not have to think too hard to remember multiple times when Hayes has the puck on an odd-man rush, waits way too long, and either attempts an easily blocked pass or stick-handles all the way into the goaltender. Too often he looks for the perfect play when it is not there. He needs to make quicker decisions and let the game come to him naturally.
He has suffered so far this season through many of the same types of struggles as Kreider, and if the Rangers are to not only turn around their recent woes, but also challenge for the Stanley Cup once again, they will need significant contributions from both of these players.