By show of hands, how many could’ve predicted this? John Tortorella’s return to MSG was a coming out party for Chris Kreider. He entered yesterday’s game against the Canucks with only three goals. By the end of it, he celebrated his first career NHL hat trick at Tortorella’s expense. Poetic considering last year’s struggle that contributed to his dismissal.
To be fair, Kreider admittedly played hurt and wasn’t the player he is now. In fact, he didn’t even make the roster out of camp. That included a poor showing in preseason which prompted Tort’s replacement Alain Vigneault to send Kreider down to Hartford. Don’t tell the Tort bashers, who certainly came out of the woodworks with the 22-year old rookie’s breakout performance that highlighted a 5-2 home win. They would have you believe he held him back. Not every kid comes up and tears it up right away. He’s been building confidence and finally got some puck luck highlighted by two deflections including the hat trick midway through the third.
”I would have struggled trusting me, too,” Kreider was quick to point out after entering having scored five goals in his first 43 NHL games. ”I was playing through an injury. There are no hard feelings, I learned a lot from him.
”I had a pretty positive experience on the whole. At the end of the day, it’s two points and we’re happy to come away with the win.”
The maturity he demonstrates is admirable. Unlike part of a slanted media that conveniently forgot his surprising run under Tortorella during the 2012 playoffs out of Boston College, Kreider understands that it’s been an uphill battle to reach this point. In another cruel twist, Vigneault put him on the identical line Tortorella created last second round against Boston. Realizing that the lines had gone stale, Vigneault reunited Kreider with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. A brilliant move. The cohesive trio combined for eight points and a plus-nine rating dominating the Canucks at even strength. Nash scored for the third straight game and added two helpers while Stepan recorded two assists.
Somewhat overlooked was the performance of rookie goalie Cam Talbot. Finally making his Garden debut, the unflappable Talbot made 35 saves in improving to 6-1-0 in seven starts. Due to a shift at work and Thanksgiving get together with my Mom, I didn’t get to see the game. However, it sounded like Talbot made some key stops including 14 in a busy first.
”A couple of our players made some great defensive efforts, and when that wasn’t there, Cam made some great saves,” Vigneault stated while expressing surprise at seeing the Sedins on the opposite side.
”I gain a lot of confidence, and confidence in the guys in front of me, too,” Talbot said. ”They’ve been playing really great in front of me. I’m just trying to stop the puck and not let them down because they’re doing a great job of getting me in games and getting me leads.”
Unlike most games where offense is at a premium, Kreider had plenty in store for his former coach. He got the goal fiesta started at 12:37 of the first period. After Stepan won a loose puck along the boards, Nash swept it to a wide open Kreider, who whipped a wrist shot by Roberto Luongo. A couple of minutes later, he took full advantage of Zach Kassian’s delay of game minor. This time, he parked in front of Luongo and deflected home a Ryan McDonagh shot for his second of the game. Former Tort whipping boy Brad Richards added an assist. In another delicious irony, the Ranger power play clicked scoring twice in three chances. That had to eat at former assistant Mike Sullivan.
”I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a little weird for me coming back here,” Tortorella expressed. ”Once the game starts, it’s about playing and trying to find a way to get a win. That’s my job, to try to get some traction with this hockey club. Once that starts, it’s just, ‘Let’s go.”’
It only got worse for Tortorella’s Canucks. Nash scored 17 seconds into the second increasing the lead to three, chasing Luongo (3 GA on 10 shots). It was his fourth goal since returning and increased his goal streak to three. Stepan and Dan Girardi picked up assists. Another Canuck penalty was punished. This time, Vigneault target Mike Del Zotto converted his second from Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard. It had to feel extra sweet for Del Zotto, who’d been a healthy scratch the last two and five of the last eight. He was reinserted for John Moore, who sat out along with Taylor Pyatt. He was replaced by a healthy Derek Dorsett, who wasted no time in the third fighting Tom Sestito.
David Booth broke up Talbot’s shutout bid with 4:10 left in the second from Mike Santorelli and ex-Blueshirt Dale Weise. The crowd saluted Talbot with chants of “Cam.” Full credit to Vigneault for giving the kid a chance. After an impressive camp, he’s run with it since Marty Biron retired. Biron now works as an MSG analyst and must be getting some satisfaction out of seeing Talbot’s development.
The only leftover drama was whether Kreider would complete the hat trick. He’d already recorded his first two-goal game. Why not make it three?!?!?!?!?! With 10:22 remaining in the third, he did just that when he got in front of an Anton Stralman point shot and neatly redirected the puck past Canuck backup Eddie Lack. The hand eye coordination it takes is off the charts. The most notable difference with Kreider since he returned is his willingness to go to the net. He’s not only willing to throw the body which Tortorella preached. But get the jersey dirty. For a young player with his combination of size, speed and strength, that’s a must. Hopefully, tonight’s success will be a harbinger of things to come for a talented young player capable of making a difference.
Former Vigneault pupil Daniel Sedin concluded the scoring fittingly with a power play goal in garbage time. Brian Boyle ended the match by trying to fight Kevin Bieksa. Why I have no clue. All in all, a memorable day for Kreider and important bounce back win for the good guys.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Anton Stralman, NYR (assist, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots in 26 shifts-20:50-vastly overlooked defenseman’s career was revived by Tortorella)
2nd Star-Rick Nash, NYR (goal-4th, 2 assists, 5 SOG, +3 in 15:54-Nashty!)
1st Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (1st career hat trick-4, 5, 6, 6 SOG, 3 hits, +3 in 14:31-a coming out party)