You know, 30 would have represented a significant number for Chris Kreider up until last season, when he became the fourth player in Rangers history to score as many as 50 goals in a season, following Vic Hadfield (50), Adam Graves (52) and Jaromir Jagr (54).
Now, well, only 30 with 14 games to go in the season?
“I’ve talked to the coaching staff and my objective has never been to match last year or to get to a certain number of goals,” Kreider told The Post after his two third-period goals Thursday night elevated his total to 30 concurrent with elevating the Rangers to a 4-2 Garden victory over the Penguins. “It’s been to play the right way and be part of a winning program.
“That’s what’s important.”
Kreider has scored six goals in his last 10 games and eight in the last 14 to hit 30 for the second time. Before last season, the wing’s single-season high had peaked at 28 in both 2016-17 and 2018-19. His two most productive goal-scoring seasons have come at ages 30 and 31. That does not reflect the common career arc.
“It’s about the team, right?” Kreider said. “And with the kind of depth we have, it reminds me of the teams we had here my first few years when we were going deep in the playoffs.”
The Rangers didn’t quite put 60 minutes together Thursday. They allowed the Penguins to hang around long enough to tie the score 2-2 midway through the third period after the Blueshirts had dominated the first period with an impressive ground attack that kept the puck below the Pittsburgh hash marks for shifts at a time.
This one did not have the bite of the match last Sunday in Pittsburgh, in which the Penguins prevailed 3-2 in overtime in a chippy affair that turned nasty at times. There wasn’t much of that at all on Thursday, though there was an isolated first-period exchange of elbows to the head, Tyler Motte catching Jeff Petry with one before Motte, the Blueshirts’ fourth-line buzz saw, took one in turn from Pierre Olivier-Joseph.
Some harm, no fouls.
The Rangers do seem to be taking advantage of their uncommon talent on the top-six. They are 4-0-1 in their last five while securing a 10-point third-place lead over the Penguins. The effort no longer seems riddled with angst. The Blueshirts are getting to know one another while head coach Gerard Gallant is employing a four-line rotation.
To wit: fourth-line center Barclay Goodrow got 13:16 of ice time, while first-line pivot Mika Zibanejad checked in with 17:54. Again, rolling in the deep.
“The depth we have is so impressive, everyone talks about the top-six, but we’ve got the third line with [the Kids] holding the offensive zone and we’ve got that fourth line with Goody, Motter and Veese [Jimmy Vesey] that advances the puck up the ice and is so hard to play against.
“We had a good team last year. We had depth. But we didn’t have depth like this.”
In fact, as Kreider sat back, he flashed back to the start of his career, when the Blueshirts went to the conference finals three times in four years and to the Stanley Cup final once, in 2014. That group of teams has always served as a reference point for Kreider, the team’s senior player, who made his debut as a 20-year-old in Game 3 of the 2012 first round against Ottawa.
“Think about it,” he said. “A lot of the time we had Rick Nash — Rick Nash — playing on the second line and the second power-play unit.
Kreider and running buddy Mika Zibanejad had been on the Rangers’ first power-play unit for more than five years. It was automatic. The Rangers would go on the man-advantage. Kreider and Zibanejad would hop over the boards. Period after period, game after game, season after season.
But now, well, not so fast. Kreider and Zibanejad are one half of a 1A-1B rotation in which, through five games, the units have alternated starts. Over this short stretch, Kreider is fifth among forwards in power-play time, while Zibanejad is sixth.
“How would like to be the opposing penalty kill coach game-planning against our different options?” Kreider said. “We all want to be a part of it and we’re all willingly making the adjustments to make our team better.
“It’s not about self. It’s about the team. Kaner [Patrick Kane] is used to getting 24-25 minutes, Vladdy [Tarasenko] is used to getting big minutes. They’re taking less so that we can be more. If you’re playing a little less, you have the energy to move your feet more, to get in on the forecheck, to throw an extra check.
“That’s what a successful team is about.”