The New York Rangers are already facing adversity this season, with Kaapo Kakko out at least one week with an upper-body injury, and Ryan Strome out due to COVID-19 protocol. However, Chris Kreider has stepped up for the Blueshirts early this season, and they will have to continue to rely heavily on him with key players out of the lineup.
Pressure on Kreider
This offseason the Rangers traded Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues, which created an opportunity for New York’s skilled young wingers to prove themselves. The trade, though, cost the team depth. One of those skilled young wingers, Vitali Kravtsov, refused to begin the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL), and may never play for the Rangers again.
Losing Kakko and Strome adds even more pressure to the Rangers’ top-six forwards who are still in the lineup. The only healthy players who have scored 15 goals in a season are Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Kreider.
While Kreider has scored at least 20 goals in six seasons, including 20 in just 50 games last season, he has been plagued by scoring droughts throughout his career. At times he dominates in front of the net, uses his speed and strength effectively, and is one of the NHL’s best power forwards. However, he also has had stretches of games when he isn’t very noticeable or effective. The Rangers need him to play well, even if he goes through a scoring drought.
Kreider’s Play This Season
Kreider scored a goal in each of the first three games of the season, and two of his goals have come on the power play. He has consistently gotten to the front of the net, created havoc, and deflected shots on goal.
The Rangers struggled to kill penalties in their first two games of the season, but Kreider has done a nice job of using his long reach to disrupt passes. Despite his strength and speed, he has rarely killed penalties in his career, but looks comfortable doing it this season. The Blueshirts will need him to spend more time killing penalties with Kakko out of the lineup, and he has played well shorthanded in the last two games. The team has killed off all six penalties it has taken in its last two games, with star players Kreider, Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and Igor Shesterkin leading the way.
Kreider has also been a noticeable player at even strength, finishing checks and forechecking effectively. He began forming chemistry with linemates Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere last season, and the three have played well together this season. They’ve created sustained pressure, and Lafreniere scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory against the Montreal Canadians. The line also defended well with the Canadians putting on pressure late in the game.
For Kreider and the Rangers
The Rangers have only managed to score eight goals in their first four games, including Kevin Rooney’s empty-net goal. They need to get some production from role players, and they’ll need their star players to step up. The Blueshirts have won two games in a row, and their star players have risen to the occasion. Shesterkin has been brilliant in goal, Kreider and Zibanejad have both played well, and Panarin scored in overtime to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hopefully, Strome and Kakko won’t be out of the lineup for long, but their absences have added pressure on star players. Early on, those stars have responded and Kreider is leading the way. Not only has he scored three goals, but he has been physical, played well defensively, and made smart decisions. Like all players, he will likely go through some cold streaks this season, but the Rangers need him to remain engaged and continue to play well even when he isn’t scoring. The Blueshirts are relying on him, and his hot start is very encouraging.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.