After Chris Kreider's devastating collision with Carey Price in the Eastern Conference Finals, which resulted in the end of Price's playoffs, I wrote an article called A Train Called Kreider. In that article I analyzed each of the three major instances where Chris Kreider collided with NHL goaltenders. The three goaltenders in question were Craig Anderson from Ottawa, Marc-Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh, and, of course, Carey Price from Montreal. In case you don't want to go back and read that article the general summary of the three events is the following:
On each play Kreider is going hard and fast to the net and on each play contact is made with him in a way that sends him into the net without complete control of his body. Could he have done more to avoid contact or make the contact less violent? That is very much up for debate, but what I took away from all of Kreider's goaltender collisions last year was that he was not completely to blame for the serious injuries to Craig Anderson and Carey Price.
Kreider admits that he was focused on the puck when Emelin made contact with him, and when you're focused on the puck (just like every hockey player who has ever had a breakaway is) you're going to collide with goaltenders when your feet aren't where you thought they were going to be. Big things that are going fast need time and space to stop going fast, especially if they are no longer in control of themselves. Kreider is a big thing, he was going very fast (does he have another speed?), and he got tripped by Emelin's stick... so he went into the net. The only place that anyone could have gone in that play.
What happened at Madison Square Garden last night against the Minnesota Wild was a different story.
With just 16 seconds remaining in the first period, Kreider chased a dumped in puck behind the Wild's net and found defenseman Jonas Brodin in his way. It is worth pointing out that Brodin positioned himself to protect the puck from Kreider but that in no way justifies what happened next...
Kreider was given a well deserved five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct. If you listen closely in the embedded video, you can hear the official explaining why he gets tossed from the game.
When Kreider recognizes that Brodin has his back to him and is defenseless the onus is on him to slow down and to not put his forearm into the back of a player that is anywhere near the boards. If you look closely, you can see Kreider's left arm extend and follow through with his hit, helping to guide the defenseless Brodin into a dangerous collision with the boards. There's little to no excuse regarding the fact that Brodin was shielding the puck, he was making a play that any and all defensemen make in that situation and was preparing for contact with Kreider. However, he was certainly not prepared for being launched into the boards from ten or eleven feet away.
Kreider is young, powerful, and fast, which is a good recipe for being involved in plays that can injure other players. How many times have we heard Joe Michelleti say that Kreider doesn't yet know his own strength? But that same recipe of youth, strength, and speed also makes him the player that has any Rangers' fan with a pulse so excited about him. Kreider, still just 23, has just 98 NHL games under his belt. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't very experienced. For some perspective, fellow Ranger Derek Stepan, who is just a year older than Kreider, has 294 games of NHL experience. So, we should expect some mistakes like the ones that Kreider is making in regards to his physical play, but we should never expect mistakes of this degree, and lack of experience is in no way an excuse for what we saw last night. The hit that Kreider gave Jonas Brodin is the kind of hit that can end a season or worse. It's the kind of hit that has no place in hockey.
If Kreider and the Rangers' coaching staff want to do more to improve his reputation around the league it is something that they are going to have to work on. Discipline is important for all young players, but it is especially important for young players who have the tools and abilities that Chris Kreider has. Kreider should be using that strength around the net, in battles along the boards, and in legal hits in all areas of the ice. When does he choose to muscle someone for position? When does he choose to make contact with a player in a position like Brodin to give him a better chance at the puck? How much strength should he exert? These are all things that Chris Kreider has to work on just as hard as he is working on his wrist shot or his passing, because he is no good to the team if he is getting phone calls from the Department of Player Safety and spending significant time in the penalty box and the press box.
We all know what we think of players around the league that we consider being dirty or having a record of dangerous and reckless plays. They are players that are easy to hate and impossible to defend. We all know that those players deservedly get a reputation with NHL officials and sometimes get calls that they don't deserve because of their reputations. It would be a shame if Kreider continues to flirt with acquiring that kind of reputation by his reckless play. Hopefully what happened last night at the end of the first period will wake Kreider up a little bit and encourage him to make better decisions in situations like that.
Kreider should be encouraged to be strong. He should be encouraged to be fast and physical and a pain in the ass on the ice, but he should also start learning how to be smart on the ice and how to show more respect for opposing players and their safety.