It took Chris Kreider nine games to score his first goal of the 2017-18 season. That was not the start to the season New York Rangers fans envisioned for the winger after he set a new career-high with his 28 goals in 2016-17.
Interestingly enough, it was the Rangers power play that got Kreider his first goal this year back on October 21st. Why is that interesting? It’s noteworthy because Kreider has been adapting to a different role on the Blueshirts’ power play. The 6-foot-3 winger has regularly planted himself in front of the net. It hasn’t earned him any deflection goals thus far, but he has played a crucial role in screening opposing goalies for goals scored by his teammates. It’s the kind of assist that doesn’t show up in the box score, but there’s no denying how important it is.
“Some guys, when they shoot it lower, the puck drops off the table,” Kreider told the New York Post earlier this month. “Some guys when they go high, the puck rises. It’s almost like a catcher and pitcher. You need to know what’s coming, and you’ve got to know to try and touch the puck and when to get out of the way.”
It seems like Kreider is getting more comfortable with going hard to the net, especially when he doesn’t have the puck. That could have something to do with the new role he’s embraced on the power play. Or, more likely, it’s tied to him developing more chemistry and confidence playing with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Kreider has more shots tipped than any other Ranger (11) by a wide margin.
Zibanejad has assists on four of Kreider’s goals and has the primary helper on two of them (in all-situations). Buchnevich has set up one of Kreider’s goals and together they have a 54.04 CF% at 5-on-5. Somehow the two wingers are in the red in regards to their goal differential together at 5-on-5, but the possession and scoring chance numbers don’t lie – good things happen when Kreider and Buchnevich play together.
The “KZB” line has been crucial to the Rangers recent offensive explosion which has been most apparent on the man advantage. Kreider’s willingness to attack the net with speed and take punishment on top of the crease has created a lot of chances for the Rangers. And although it may seem counter-intuitive because of his speed, the best place for him on the power play is parked on top of the crease where he can raise hell, tip pucks and bang home rebounds.
Kreider now has five goals in his last eight games; three of those have come on the man advantage. To add some context to that number: last season he had six power play goals in 75 games. Yeah, having a power play unit with Kevin Shattenkirk and Zibanejad on it is a very nice thing.
Eventually Kreider’s production at even strength will rebound. His 5-on-5 strength shooting percentage this season is just 5.71 percent and he’s second on the team in shots put on net, so something’s got to give. If Kreider can get his scoring touch back at even strength while he’s still banging home pucks on the power play, it will be great news for the Rangers.
The best way that Alain Vigneault can make that happen is by keeping Kreider with Zibanejad and Buchnevich moving forward. The chemistry is there. The chances are there. All they need now is the finish. If that line can get some bounces and finish some chances at evens it might be enough for Kreider to match his goal total from last season despite his early goal drought. Right now he’s on pace for 25 goals. Again, it’s nice to have a power play you can depend on.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Kreider has played in 339 regular season games and that he’s 26-years-old. He’s a player that Rangers fans fell in love with in a hurry. That connection brought with it some frustration in his inconsistency as a goal scorer and a lot of impatience while he worked to “put it all together.” This may sound strange to some, but Kreider is likely the Rangers best goal-scorer. Since 2015-16 no Ranger has scored more goals or power play goals than the Kreidsdale.
Kreider getting his confidence back can only mean good things moving forward for New York.