NEW YORK – It had to feel awfully good. For the modest player who shoved it up his former coach’s rear-end on Saturday afternoon, he’ll never admit it.
But you know it felt good. You could tell when Chris Kreider jumped into the glass after scoring his first of three goals, it felt good. You know it, even if he refused to admit to any of it.
Of course it felt good. It was his first-career hat trick, it came in a 5-2 win, and it came against the coach that didn’t believe in him, that didn’t put him in a position to succeed last season.
“I think I learned a lot,” Kreider said of his disastrous 2013 campaign. “I think I learned a lot of the smaller nuances, the little things you need to do to help your team win. I definitely think I learned a lot of little things.”
“Those moments in a season sometimes help players with confidence, or help them continue to improve,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault of Kreider’s hat trick. “Players have to improve and the team has to improve. As a team, you have to keep going upwards. Some teams go up, some teams go down. We have to be one of those teams that goes up. If we’re going to go up, we need individual players to go up.”
Kreider was a whipping boy under former Rangers coach John Tortorella, who was fired in May by the Rangers after the locker room tuned out his brash, unforgiving style.
When Tortorella was hired in Vancouver about a month later, it turned into the NHL’s first-ever single-offseason coach swap. Alain Vigneault went from Vancouver to New York, and Tortorella went the other way.
While Tortorella did a masterful job with youngsters like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Carl Hagelin, he didn’t quite know how to use the 6’3”. 226 pound forward who scored five goals in 18 postseason games during the Rangers run to the conference final in 2012.
In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Tortorella had no time to develop the still-raw Kreider, ping-ponging him between the AHL Connecticut Whale and the big club. In the process, Kreider’s confidence was shot. He scored just two goals and added only one assist in 23 games, during which he took only 19 shots and played an average of ten minutes a night during an injury-plagued season.
And even when he did allow Kreider ice time, he didn’t exactly deliver a ringing endorsement. “I’m still not crazy about bringing a kid here, but we felt with his assets, his speed especially, that’s who we’ll go with,” Tortorella said last April after one of Kreider’s three callups during the 48-game season.
“I struggled trusting me, too,” Kreider said of the mistrust Tortorella had for him last season.
Kreider had to prove himself this year to new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, too. After failing to make the Opening Night roster, Kreider wasn’t called up until late October, when he grabbed his since-permanent spot as a Top-6 forward.
“It’s not the same player that I saw in preseason,” Vigneault said. “We sent him to the minors because there really wasn’t much going on. After a week there, I remember Glen and I went to see a game in Hartford. He had played real well. What he was doing there, just carried over here.”
Tortorella Takes Broadway
Tortorella was met by a large press scrum just outside the Canucks locker room just over two hours before the puck dropped, during which he admitted to feeling a little weird about being back in the arena he called home for over four years.
“It’s weird,” Tortorella said during a nine-minute press briefing. “The overriding emotion is, the Vancouver Canucks trying to find a way to win and gain some traction as we’ve gone up and down. That overrides everything.”
Vigneault said he walked up the ramp with Tortorella on their way in the building Saturday morning, and observed he felt almost nothing regarding facing his former team.
“For you guys to stop asking is the best thing,” Tortorella said when asked how tough it is to sever ties with an organization. “I don’t think you ever sever ties. I think some of the most important things when you’re all said and done with the game are the relationships. So I don’t think you ever totally sever it. But when you’re in the middle of things, and you’re 30 games into it with another team, I think it’s time to sever it.”
But as for Saturday’s game, Tortorella’s pre-game message was – as always – focused on just one objective.
“I am going to coach this game, hopefully kick their ass, and get out of here,” Tortorella said. “That’s certainly not being disrespectful. We’re so wrapped up in our season, we play tomorrow at 1 o’clock in Carolina, we’re getting on a plane and going.”
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Rangers rookie goaltender Cam Talbot made an NHL career-high 35 saves to win his sixth straight decision. He’s yet to allow more than two goals in any of his seven career starts, the first Rangers goaltender to ever begin his career with such a streak. The last goaltender in NHL history to do so was the Bruins’ Frank Brimsek in the 1938-39 season.
The Rangers are 11-6-0 in their last 17 games after starting the season 3-7-0 in their first ten games.