By Sean Hartnett
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At a younger age, blazing speed and raw strength separated Chris Kreider from his peers. Now at the age of 25, he has developed into a franchise cornerstone for the Rangers.
An uptick in shooting accuracy has made the Boxford, Massachusetts, native more difficult to contain than ever.
Kreider is still a speed demon and will use his muscular frame to win puck battles and gain valuable real estate around the crease. What has changed is his newfound ability to score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. He’s getting off shots with power and accuracy from the outside, expanding his scoring range like an NBA sharpshooter from further beyond the 3-point arc.
“I think he’s just shooting it more,” alternate captain Derek Stepan said. “A scoring area for me is a lot closer than a scoring area for him. He can score from outside there because he shoots the puck so well. I think it’s just a knowledge of knowing ‘if I hit this in this spot, I’ll have a chance to score.’ I think he’s releasing it well and moving his feet. If you ask him, he’s keeping his game really simple. So, it has been good.”
Kreider unleashed a corker in third period of Sunday’s 4-3 home victory over the Calgary Flames. As he carried the puck across center ice and toward the left circle, he locked the target in his sights and beat goaltender Brian Elliott on the glove side, top corner.
“It’s one area of his game that he’s really worked at,” head coach Alain Vigneault said of Kreider. “That wrister coming down on his strong side and letting it go at the net, he’s really improved his release and his location of the shot. It was a real good goal.”
Kreider extended his goal-scoring streak to a career-high three games. He notched the overtime tally to defeat the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center a game earlier. Through 46 games, he has scored 21 goals, equaling his previous career-best total. He is currently on pace to finish the season with 35. Among skaters who have played in at least 20 games, his 1.56 goals per 60 minutes is tied for eighth overall in the NHL.
“When (Kreider) plays like that and is sticking to his game, he’s one of the hardest guys to stop,” center J.T. Miller said.
The hard work is paying off. Kreider’s 16.7 shooting percentage this season is 3.5 points above his career average and his 0.8 points per game is the best of his five years in the league. His 18 primary points trail only Michael Grabner for the team lead.
How do you stop Kreider? Finding the answer is becoming more difficult than ever for goaltenders around the league. Seven of his goals have been wrist shots, five have been tip-ins, four have been snap shots, two have been slappers, two more have been back handers, and one a deflection.
There’s proving to be no one way to shut Kreider down. He can score from the point and in the dirty areas down low. He’ll angle his stick properly to score a redirect, beat you with a booming slap shot or with a quick-release wrister.
They say variety is the spice of life. For goal-scorers, it’s no different. The hardest thing for opponents to stop is unpredictability and that’s why Kreider is enjoying the finest season of his young career.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey