Let me begin by stating that I am not an advocate of playing Chris Kreider at the current moment. He has been very suspect defensively, and he just hasn’t been good without the puck. When he isn’t scoring, his role is severely limited on this team. I am still of the belief that Kreider needs to round out his game before he can get big time minutes.
That said, Kreider’s greatest assets are his speed and offensive potential. For a Rangers club that has mustered just one lucky bounce goal in two games these playoffs, it may be time to let the kid loose and see what he can do when given a chance with offensive minded players. At this stage of the series, the Rangers need goals, and they might be willing to sacrifice some defensive mindedness to find some goals.
As it stands now, the Rangers top-six aren’t scoring. Carl Hagelin is the only forward who has been consistent in generating offensive chances, but that took a hit when Alex Ovechkin hit him knee-on-knee in Game Two (albeit incidentally). Rick Nash was a force in Game One, but we didn’t hear from him until the third period of Game Two. The Caps aren’t good enough defensively to shut down a team like this.
Half of the Caps defensemen leave a lot to be desired when it comes to foot speed. We’ve seen Hagelin, Nash, and other forwards burn past the defense on multiple occasions, but they haven’t been able to finish. Kreider has the same speed as Hagelin when he gets going, and there’s no reason to believe the kid, who was pretty good in Game One, wouldn’t be able to generate something when placed on a line with like-minded players.
Even though Brad Richards has had an awful year, he has looked a lot better when on a line with Mats Zuccarello. What that pairing lacks is someone who will go to the middle of the net and feast on rebounds. Kreider, a natural power forward, is that kind of player. The reason why Nash didn’t work is because his style of play is similar to Richards’ style, and they make each other redundant on the ice. Line building is finding nice compliments for each player’s skill set, and Kreider’s speed and willingness to go to the dirty area in front of the net compliments Zuccarello and Richards very well.
There is also the option of putting the Kreider-Stepan-Callahan line back together, the one that worked so well in last year’s playoffs. All three are fast, skilled, and have great hockey IQ. That’s a dangerous trio against a team that struggles defensively.
Inserting Kreider back into the lineup, but more importantly into the top-six and given a chance to play without penalty of benching, is a very big risk. He’s not sound defensively, and shifts won’t end well if he gets pinned in his own zone. But when deployed properly, especially if he’s given powerplay time, he could be a dangerous asset.
We generally say that the playoffs are not time to experiment, but the status quo is not working. Sometimes, change is necessary, even if it’s a long shot.