New York Rangers' Kreider and Zuccarello find Harmony
Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello played about as well as you could ask as linemates.
Though Kreider is a rare scorer, there is no doubt that losing Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad within the span of just a few weeks impacted what looked like could be Kreider’s most dominant start of his career.
Since the “ZBK” Line broke down one by one, Kreider has returned to his pairing with his linemates last season Derek Stepan and Zuccarello, and his production is on an upward trend.
At the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, Kreider was off to a hot start, scoring a goal in each of the Rangers first three games. However, Kreider only scored one goal in the 13 games the Rangers played during the month of November (and had just five assists, compared to the seven he had in five games in October).
Since the start of December, Kreider’s production has returned to top shape. He had a four game point streak (scoring three goals and recording two assists) in the first four games in December, which tied his career-high. He has scored four goals in the last five games and has seven points in the last six games – and the Rangers are only halfway through the 15 games they are scheduled to play this month.
Beyond just improving Kreider’s production, Zuccarello’s somewhat slow start has seen a boost as well. He has notched four assists in the last five games and three of those four assists came off goals from Chris Kreider.
On Sunday night, Kreider scored a goal off a feed from Zuccarello in the corner in the first period to start off the Rangers’ scoring in their 5-0 win over New Jersey.
There are many reasons why players like Kreider and Zuccarello fit together.
As a power forward, Kreider thrives when he has the ability to play a north south game and is most successful when he can use his speed to create open ice and generate scoring chances. That, combined with a playmaker like Zuccarello – who is confident carrying the puck, can put it in the right place at the right time and constantly generates opportunity coming out of the Rangers own end – has made for an extremely dangerous offensive pairing.
Kreider and Zuccarello have also been able to create chances when the puck is settled on the offensive end. Zuccarello can generate good opportunities from cycling down low because he can be creative. In these scenarios, his strong passing skills are a part of the reason he is so successful.
Combine this with Kreider’s physicality in front of the net and his ability to create open space for himself in tight situations, and it is easy to see why he and Zuccarello often end up on the stat sheet when they play together.
What this means for the future
It would be logical to keep Kreider and Zuccarello on a line together moving forward since their respective production is on an upward trend. It might be beneficial to put Zibanejad on a line with Kreider and Zuccarello upon his return. Assuming that the wingers continue to generate points and Zibanejad comes back from his injury playing well, why not give it a try and see if something clicks?
Right now the Rangers offense has enough depth – the second line pairing of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Jimmy Vesey was effective; J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner has been one of the strongest lines for the Rangers; and the fourth line with Jesper Fast continuing to play solid hockey, Oscar Lindberg finally showing some life, and Marek Hrivik making an impact in his few games – that it makes sense for them to take a risk.
It is early enough in the season for them to test things and have an idea of what might work looking further down the road.
If Zibanejad were to center a line that is as skilled and quick as one that contains Kreider and Zuccarello, they could be one of the most dangerous lines offensively in the league (assuming that they find chemistry and all play their top game).
There is already evidence that supports there is harmony between Kreider and Zibanejad and between Kreider and Zuccarello, all that’s left to see is how Zibanejad and Zuccarello fit together on the ice.
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