The New York Rangers have won three of their last four games, finally finding some traction as the first month of the season came to a close on Halloween. On home ice, the Rangers shut out the Buffalo Sabres, winning a 2-0 game on the strength of several players they will need to rely heavily on, Henrik Lundqvist and Chris Kreider.
Relying on Lundqvist is, of course, no surprise, even as he struggled out of the gates, and spent a bit of time on the bench fighting off a few injuries. While the whole team was playing awfully in the midst of a season-opening nine game road trip, as the team’s best player and a Vezina Trophy winning goaltender, he had the ability to turn things around all on his own.
His performance of late is starting to show that. He’s posted two shutout victories in his last four starts, equaling his total from all of last season. His numbers on the year are still poor, with a .908 save percentage and 2.84 GAA, but they’ll only continue to improve quickly behind more performances such as last night’s, when he turned away all 29 shots he faced.
He had plenty of help against the Sabres though. The Rangers produced 46 shots on goal against Buffalo, with only an otherworldly performance by Ryan Miller keeping the Sabres in the game. Derick Brassard broke through on the power play in the 1st period, his 2nd goal of the season, and Kreider’s goal came midway through the 2nd period, scoring on a rebound from a bad angle.
The goal was Kreider’s 2nd of the year, and marked the second straight game in which he scored in a tight win for the Blueshirts. With two goals and three total points in five games since being called up, he’s equaled his numbers from last season when he played in 23 regular season games.
During that stretch though, he was oddly relegated to the checking line, maintaining permanent residency in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse. Now, Kreider has a chance to be a top six forward on the team, and playing with superior talent around him has helped as much as his improved maturity and all-around decision making while on the ice.
New head coach Alain Vigneault may have began the year with the same feelings about Kreider as his predecessor had, as the team sent down the young forward to Hartford. However, with injuries to Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash keeping them out of the lineup, it was the perfect time to call Kreider up, and give him a legitimate opportunity to prove himself and earn his keep.
The kid can score, and that’s no surprise, either. If Vigneault can trust on more steady and capable performances at both ends of the ice, he’ll continue to get more chances to put the puck in the back of the net.
That’s something the Rangers need desperately, as they’ve already suffered three shutout defeats and have scored just 20 times in 12 games this season, tied for the lowest output in the entire NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers, who’ve played one less game. For comparison’s sake, the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Maple Leafs have scored 48 goals in 14 games.
The Rangers play seven of their next nine games at home, and they’ll need to capitalize on that stretch in the new and improved Madison Square Garden to continue climbing up the standings. More shutouts from Lundqvist and goals from Kreider would certainly help to further that cause.
*This article was first published on Yahoo Sports on November 1, 2013.