By Sean Hartnett
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Chris Kreider looks like a man on a mission right now.
Two games into the new season, the 25-year-old winger has been a force, collecting four points.
He was the star in the Rangers’ 5-3 opening night win over the rival Islanders, using his powerful frame and jet-like speed to cause all kinds of havoc. The box score didn’t lie, either. Kreider finished with a goal, an assist, seven shots on goal and four hits in 16:11 of ice time.
“It’s going to be the key going forward — do the things I do well and don’t get away from it,” Kreider said after Thursday’s win. “Those are the things I can do on a daily basis, finishing my checks. The game was a little helter-skelter early, so it was hard to kind of get into the flow where you’re forechecking. As the game went on I felt like I did a better job of getting my feet moving and finishing my checks and I think that’s helpful. It makes the team think twice and hopefully it leads to turnovers and more zone time.”
The 6-foot-3 forward followed up his opening performance with an equally impressive showing in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. His individual stat sheet mirrored that from opening night, featuring a goal, an assist, seven shots on goal and four hits in 16:58 of ice time.
So far, Kreider has consistently peppered opposing goaltenders with high volumes of testing shots, using his big body effectively and breezing by defenders with his acceleration. He thrived against a formidable group of St. Louis blue liners that excel at taking space and time away from skilled forwards.
“He’s such a powerful forward, but that speed that he has also scares the opposition,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said last season. “I mean, you can hear him coming down the ice. When I say hear, I mean you can really hear those strides.”
Saturday’s loss was the kind of game the Rangers typically win 99 times out of 100 given their penchants for creating territorial dominance and Grade-A chances. They just happened to run into a hot goalie in Carter Hutton, rang a few posts and lacked the required puck luck.
Back to Kreider, the recurring question posed by Rangers fans is “why hasn’t he been dominant on a consistent basis?” Well, it’s easy to forget that he’s only one of four NHL players to record 60 goals, 125 points, 220 PIM and a plus-40 rating since the 2012-13 season. Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Corey Perry are the others. That’s pretty elite company.
It can also get overlooked that he led the Blueshirts in shot generation last season. Sure, his game needed an added measure of consistency and Kreider would be the first guy to admit that. But last season is the past and the Kreider of today appears to be closer than ever to being that breakout, franchise power forward everyone expects him to become.
“Everybody who knows Kreids, conditioning is never an issue,” Vigneault said. “I think he just came in here with the right attitude and he’s playing to his strengths. Obviously, that’s being a power forward, using his speed when he has the puck and using his speed on the forecheck to create a turnover.”
Kreider looks close — very close — to finally blossoming into Mr. Consistency.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey