GREENBURGH, N.Y. – There’s been a lot of talk in the Rangers locker room lately about next year. Talk, as in, “these games we’re playing now are important for next year.’’
But Chris Kreider isn’t talking about next year.
“We’ve got 10 games left,’’ Kreider said after the Rangers’ practice Monday. “Who knows? Win all 10, 89 points might get us in a wild card spot.’’
He said that with a smile, knowing how unlikely a premise that is. Yet Kreider at least seemed to be in a better mood than he has been of late. Maybe it has something to do with simply feeling better. It turns out there may have been a reason behind Kreider’s current 10-game goal drought; coach David Quinn revealed Monday that the 27-year-old forward has been battling an injury that had not been previously disclosed.
“I give him a lot of credit for fighting through an injury,’’ Quinn said of Kreider. “And he’s starting to feel better, and I think you see a better result from that. I think his play, the last few games, has been much more noticeable. I think he’s more involved… and I’m happy with the direction he’s going.’’
Kreider never let on that he might have been hurting over the past few weeks. There was some speculation that he might have been hurt when Quinn first benched him, then dropped him to the fourth line, in the third period of the March 7 game at Detroit. At the time, Quinn said he was shaking things up because the Rangers were having trouble scoring, and other players were playing better than Kreider.
Whether it was injury-related or not, Kreider’s goal drought has slowed what had looked, early on, like it was going to be a breakout year for the Boxford, Mass. native. He enters Tuesday’s home game against Detroit second on the team in scoring, with 26 goals and 23 assists, which projects to 30 goals, 26 assists and 56 points over 82 games, all of which would be career-bests. Midway through the season, though, he had been on track to score 40 goals.
A big season might have convinced the Rangers that Kreider was the one guy they needed to keep through their rebuild. He is heading into the final season of his contract, and if they don’t sign him to an extension, he could end up being traded away at next year’s NHL trade deadline, the way Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes were this year.
Kreider, though, won’t talk about his contract status, or his potential future with the team.
“It’s the business side of it,’’ he said. “It’s not something I concern myself with – until I need to concern myself with it. I’m focused on Detroit [Tuesday]. And the nine games after that.’’
NOTES: The Rangers called up D John Gilmour and F Vinni Lettieri from Hartford Monday evening. Gilmour, an AHL All-Star, had a team record 20 goals for Hartford. Lettieri, who has played 18 games with the Rangers this season, had 23 goals in 44 games for Hartford… Filip Chytil (flu) and Jesper Fast (maintenance) did not practice, and Quinn said Chytil “probably’’ won’t play Tuesday… Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal.