The New York Rangers might have lost 4-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, but with a playoff berth already clinched and the first-round playoff game perhaps not particularly favorable for the lead series of the Metropolitan Division, the loss was far from the end of the world.
More importantly, at least in Rangers lore, Chris Kreider hit the 50-goal plateau.
Kreider hits 50
With Rangers trailing 3-1 late in the third period, head coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Igor Shesterkin for an extra forward. Coming out of a timeout to set up a play, Rangers won the faceoff, leading Adam Fox to fire a shot from when Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp got a stick before Kreider went brings back the rebound of its net-front office.
The goal breathed life into the game for Rangers with 1:38 left, but they ultimately fell short as the Hurricanes sealed the deal with an empty net in the dying seconds.
Despite the team’s loss, the milestone for Kreider makes a lot of sense.
The importance of Kreider’s 50-goal season
In goal number 50 of the season, Kreider joins an exclusive Rangers club. He is only the fourth Rangers player to reach the mark, and the first since Jaromir Jagr scored a franchise-record 54 goals in the 2005-06 season after the lockout. Adam Graves scored 52 goals in the 1993-94 Rangers Cup-winning season, while Vic Hadfield netted exactly 50 in 1971-72. Kreider has also already set the franchise record with 25 power-play goals this season.
Kreider’s ascendancy at this milestone was unique. Rangers’ 2009 first-round pick (19th overall), Kreider entered the league with the rare combination of size, strength and speed. For years it looked like he had all the physical tools to be a prolific goalscorer. Although he was a productive player for Rangers throughout his career, he had not previously approached elite scoring levels, having never scored more than 28 goals in a single season.
Then came this season. Conventional wisdom would have suggested that at 30 and with plenty of experience under his belt, Kreider was what he was and would remain, at best, a 25-goal scorer for a few more years before he started to cool down. The fact that he blew his previous production out of the water in his 30-year season is astounding.
In NHL history, only 13 other players age 30 or older have already scored 50 goals in a season (some have done so many times after turning 30). Interestingly, two of them are previously mentioned Rangers. 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
- John Pronovost
- Joe Sakic
Not a bad list of players Kreider can count himself among now. Additionally, Kreider scored 50 goals for the first time after his 30th birthday puts him in even rarer company. Only four other players have been so late in this regard (Bucyk, Hadfield, Mullen and Pronovost).
How Kreider does his damage
So, in short, how did Kreider suddenly become a 50-goal player at 30? This season, in addition to an excellent team power play that features 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 filtering ability have always been there, but Kreider has mastered what it means to be an effective web presence – something that is not just about physical gifts, but rather a craft that requires continuous practice and dedication. . (And yes, good hand-eye coordination to start with.)
As part of this skill set, Kreider is able to gain and maintain position at the mouth of goal, which is a major part of Rangers’ successful power play. He is also extremely good at screening goalkeepers and switching shots and passes. It has a strong enough shot to score from outside this area as well, but it deals the vast majority of its damage up close. The graphic below shows the locations of all his objectives this season:
Kreider’s accuracy with puck deflection 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 one season — is a shining example:
Kreider could be glad i’m done with chasing 50, but there is even more at stake for him this season. While the team’s playoff goals remain most important to Kreider and Rangers, he can break Jagr’s franchise record of 54 goals with five goals in the last eight games of the regular season. It would take a bit of time to do that, but Kreider has been on a busy streak most of the season.
No matter where Kreider’s goal tally ends, all Rangers fans should take a moment to appreciate the historic season he’s had. He is the only remaining Ranger from the sides competing for the Cup from 2012-2015, and achieved the incredible feat just a few years after a career-threatening blood clot scare. For that journey to ultimately culminate in this season, it has to be particularly rewarding for Kreider and a treat for Ranger fans.