The New York Rangers might have lost 4-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, but with a playoff spot already clinched and the first-round playoff matchup perhaps not being especially favorable for the top seed in the Metropolitan Division, the loss was far from the end of the world.
Of greater significance, at least in Rangers lore, was Chris Kreider hitting the 50-goal plateau.
Kreider Hits 50
With the Rangers trailing 3-1 late in the third period, head coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Igor Shesterkin for an extra attacker. Coming out of a timeout to set up a play, the Rangers won the faceoff, leading to Adam Fox wristing a shot from the point that both Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp got a stick on before Kreider put home the rebound from his net-front office.
His 50th goal of the season.— x - New York Rangers (@NYRangers) April 13, 2022
No. 20, Chris. Kreider. pic.twitter.com/suq52G3XeM
The goal gave the Rangers life in the game with 1:38 to play, but they ultimately fell short as the Hurricanes sealed the deal with an empty-netter in the waning seconds.
Despite the team’s loss, the milestone for Kreider carries quite a bit of meaning.
The Significance of Kreider’s 50-Goal Season
In netting goal number 50 on the season, Kreider joins an exclusive club of Rangers. He is only the fourth Rangers player to ever hit the mark, and the first since Jaromir Jagr scored a franchise-record 54 goals in the offense-happy post-lockout season of 2005-06. Adam Graves scored 52 goals in the Rangers’ Cup-winning 1993-94 season, while Vic Hadfield tallied exactly 50 in 1971-72. Kreider has also already set the franchise record with 25 power-play goals this season.
Chris Kreider just keeps on scoring goals ✨ some of the hits from this season pic.twitter.com/SmF1Ta6ejc— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) March 26, 2022
Kreider’s ascendancy to this milestone has been unique. A first-round draft pick (19th overall) of the Rangers in 2009, Kreider came into the league with the rare combination of size, strength, and speed. For years, it seemed he had all the physical tools to be a prolific goal scorer. While he has been a productive player for the Rangers throughout his career, he previously had not approached elite levels of scoring, never tallying more than 28 goals in a single season.
Then came this season. Conventional wisdom would have suggested that at age 30 and with plenty of experience under his belt, Kreider was what he was and would remain, at best, a 25-ish goal scorer for a couple more years before beginning to wind down. The fact that he has blown his previous production out of the water in his age-30 season is astounding.
In NHL history, only 13 other players age 30 or above have ever scored 50 goals in a season (some have done so multiple times after turning 30). Interestingly, two of them are Rangers previously mentioned. The names:
- Dave Andreychuk
- Johnny Bucyk
- Marcel Dionne
- Phil Esposito
- Vic Hadfield (in his aforementioned 1971-72 season)
- Bobby Hull
- Jarome Iginla
- Jaromir Jagr (in his aforementioned 2005-06 season)
- Mario Lemieux
- Joe Mullen
- Alex Ovechkin
- Jean Pronovost
- Joe Sakic
Not a bad list of players among whom Kreider can now count himself. Furthermore, Kreider hitting 50 goals for the first time after turning 30 puts him in even rarer company. Only four other players have ever been such late bloomers in that regard (Bucyk, Hadfield, Mullen, and Pronovost).
How Kreider Does His Damage
So, in short, how has Kreider suddenly become a 50-goal player at age 30? This season, in addition to an excellent team power play that features some elite playmakers, Kreider’s mastery of the offensive goal crease and immediate surrounding area has been a major catalyst for his success. The size, speed, and screening ability were always there, but Kreider has fully mastered what it means to be an effective net-front presence — something that isn’t all about physical gifts but is more so a craft that requires continued practice and dedication. (And yes, strong hand-eye coordination to begin with.)
As part of that skill set, Kreider is able to gain and maintain position at the goal mouth, which is a major component of the Rangers’ successful power play. He is also extremely adept at screening goalies and tipping shots and passes. He has a strong enough shot to score from outside that area as well, but he does the vast majority of his damage from in close. The graphic below shows the locations of all of his goals this season:
Kreider’s precision with respect to deflecting pucks has been on display all season, but his goal against the New Jersey Devils on April 5 — which made him the franchise record holder for power-play goals in a season — is a shining example:
Kreider might be glad to be done with the chase for 50, but there is still more at stake for him this season. While team playoff goals remain the most important for Kreider and the Rangers, he can break Jagr’s 54-goal franchise record with five goals in the remaining eight regular-season games. It would take a bit of a hot run to do it, but Kreider has been on a hot run pretty much all season.
No matter where Kreider’s final goal total ends up, however, all Ranger fans should take a moment to appreciate the historic season he’s had. He is the only Ranger left from the Cup-contending teams of 2012 through 2015, and has reached this incredible achievement only a few years after a blood clot scare that threatened his career. For that journey to eventually culminate in this season has to be especially rewarding for Kreider, and a treat for Ranger fans to see.