After an early playoff exit last year, the Rangers have put an extra emphasis on speed this season, writes Allan Kreda of the New York Times. Not only did they add fast skating forwards in Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, and Mika Zibanejad, they’ve also encouraged their blueline to play a faster game as well. While their speed up front has been noticeable, head coach Alain Vigneault has been pleased with its effects on their back end:
“What I like is that we’re using it well defensively. We haven’t given up as many shots and scoring chances. That has permitted us to retrieve the puck quicker and put the speed on display and counterattack to where hopefully it’s more fun: the other team’s end.”
One player who has benefitted from the focus on playing faster is Chris Kreider, who is off to the best start of his career with three goals and four assists in the first four games of the season. Kreider attributes his fast start to being eliminated so quickly in the postseason last year as that gave him more time to train over the summer and his combination of speed and size has been evident in the early going this season. So far, he’s giving the Rangers a strong early return on a four year, $18.5MM deal signed late in July.
[Related: Rangers Depth Chart]
Other Rangers news and notes:
- Center Kevin Hayes is also benefitting from playing quicker as a result of dropping “a pretty good amount of weight” over the summer, notes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. After taking a step back during his sophomore campaign last year, Vigneault has boosted Hayes’ ice time by over two minutes per game early on while trusting him to take some key faceoffs. Hayes has responded by winning 50% of his draws so far; by comparison, he won only 36% last season.
- Rookie winger Pavel Buchnevich is expected to miss at least the next two games due to back spasms, reports Newsday’s Steve Zipay. As for defenseman Dan Girardi, there’s a chance he plays in one of New York’s games this weekend but won’t suit up in both contests. He has missed the last two games with a groin issue.