By Sean Hartnett
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The speedy Rangers have been one of the NHL’s most exciting teams to begin the young season.
Head coach Alain Vigneault likes to push the pace with his uptempo and offense-leaning system. Through three games, the Blueshirts have done just that, averaging 4.67 goals per game — good for a tie for second overall, and 34.3 shots (sixth).
Aggressive on the forecheck and fast on their skates, the Rangers have a lot to be optimistic about. They are 2-1 and have had success advancing the puck quickly up ice, generating high-end chances and establishing dominant offensive zone time.
Fast across four lines, there has been no let up.
“It’s turning out to be a big strength,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “Hopefully it’s going to have to continue. That’s got to be our identity as a speed game.”
As McDonagh stated, speed is undoubtedly the Rangers’ identity and no Blueshirt is thriving quite like 25-year-old winger Chris Kreider. The Boxford, Massachusetts native’s fifth season is off to a sizzling start. His two-point (one goal, one assist) performance helped the Rangers to a 7-4 victory over the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
In each game, Kreider has recorded at least a goal, an assist, four shots on goal and three hits. Only Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand has bettered his six points and no skater has registered more shots on goal than Kreider’s 18. The 6-foot-3 winger is the first Ranger to record six points in the opening three games of a season since Hall of Famer Brian Leetch did so during the 1992-93 season.
“When he’s at his best, he’s a nightmare for defensemen the way he skates, on the forecheck and causes turnovers,” alternate captain Marc Staal said of Kreider. “He just opens room for his linemates and he’s been doing that on a different level these first three games here. He’s been impressive to watch.”
The Rangers did not miss a beat Monday even though talented rookie Pavel Buchnevich sat out due to back spasms, defenseman Kevin Klein missed his third straight game because of the same injury and alternate captain Dan Girardi was sidelined due to a hip flexor.
It was also a night rookie winger Jimmy Vesey will never forget as he scored his first career NHL goal, which was also his first career point.
“It was definitely just pure joy,” Vesey said. “I think I expressed it a little bit on the ice. I think I gave two fist pumps and I just couldn’t be happier to get that one out of the way. Especially to do it at home in front of our fans, the ovation after that was awesome and what I dreamed about as a kid. I’m really happy to get that one.”
Even while the 23-year-old was without a point, he impressed with his two-way hockey sense and intelligent plays in the offensive zone.
“I think just having the puck in the offensive zone — I’m not really hesitant to make a mistake,” Vesey said. “Sometimes in the beginning you just try not to make a mistake and play it safe, but I’m holding onto it more I think, and making more plays. I think a lot of that has come from just continuing to develop chemistry with my linemates. They’ve been awesome for me and you saw the play they made for the goal, so it’s been awesome for me.”
Against the high-octane Sharks, who used serious scoring punch to reach last season’s Stanley Cup Final, the shorthanded Rangers caused all kinds of havoc with their forechecking and strong play across three zones. While the Blueshirts bent a little in the third period, they did not break. It’s becoming clear that the best form of defense is sustained offense in the modern NHL and the Rangers have that in spades.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey