NEW YORK — When the New York Rangers selected Chris Kreider with the 19th pick in the 2009 draft, stardom was expected.
Entering his fourth NHL season, the left wing may be beginning to live up to the projections.
“He’s a power forward who is playing to his strengths,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said after Kreider had a goal and an assist for the third straight game as the Rangers beat the San Jose Sharks 7-4 on Monday night.
“He’s tough to handle right now, whether on the initial rush or down low in the opposition’s end. He makes it real challenging for the other team.”
Kreider, who signed a four-year, $18.5 million contract on July 22, has three goals and three assists in New York’s first three games. According to the team, he is the first Ranger since Brian Leetch in 1992-93 to tally six points in New York’s first three games. He also became the first New York forward to record six points in three games to start a season since Bernie Nicholls and Darren Turcotte in 1990-91.
“You want to play instinctually,” Kreider said. “You simplify your game; you get back to the stuff you know you do well. A lot of time that adversity helps you focus. From there, lock in on what you do well and do on a consistent basis.”
Kreider was one of seven Rangers to score, along with Marc Staal, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, rookie Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello and Michael Grabner. Twelve Rangers finished with at least one point, led by Zuccarello, who recorded a goal and two assists.
New York has won two of its first three games this season.
“I’m hoping we’re going to get better,” Vigneault said. “If you’re going to get into the playoffs you have to be one of those teams that continues to improve. Some teams improve. Some teams don’t improve and fade away. We need to be one of those teams that continues to improve.”
Tied 1-1 early in the second period, New York took the lead for good on Nash’s first of the season 4:15 of the period. The sequence began when Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh’s shot ricocheted off the end boards to Nash, who was in front of Martin Jones’ net.
Jones finished with 22 saves.
The lead grew to 3-1 6:06 later when Kreider’s off-wing drive ticked off Jones’ stick and into the net.
New York was 1 for 3 on the power play, and San Jose was 1 for 4.
“We are finding our way,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said of his specialty units. “I probably like our penalty kill better than our power play.”
Staal’s one-timer 12:06 into the game put the Rangers ahead 1-0.
Following Staal’s goal, though, the Sharks outshot the Rangers 7-2 for the remainder of the period, culminated by Logan Couture’s 5-on-3 power-play tap-in with 57.5 seconds left.
San Jose, which lost for the first time in three games this season, cut the deficit to 3-2 on Brent Burns’ second of the season at 9:13 of the third.
“We had it early, then we didn’t,” said San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, who finished with a goal and three assists. “We were chasing it a little bit too much.”
New York struck back quickly as Hayes and Vesey scored 21 seconds apart to push the lead to 5-2. The goals were the first of the season for both, and for Vesey, the first of his NHL career. The Rangers signed the Hobey Baker Award winner from Harvard to a two-year, free agent contract on Aug. 19.
“It was definitely just pure joy,” Vesey said. “I just couldn’t be happier to get that one out of the way.
“I’m really happy to get that one.”
The tack-on goals were significant as Burns scored his second of the game 1:20 after Vesey scored, followed by Pavelski’s first of the season at 15:31.
Despite watching his team score three third-period goals, DeBoer wasn’t enthralled with the Sharks’ performance.
“We got what we deserved,” DeBoer said. “The team that competed the hardest won and that’s the way it should be.”
Zuccarello and Grabner added empty net goals.
New York goaltender Antti Raanta made 26 saves on 30 shots.
NOTES: New York played without D Dan Girardi and D Kevin Klein, along with rookie LW Pavel Buchnevich, due to injuries. Before the morning skate, the Rangers announced Girardi was day-to-day with a strained groin and Buchnevich had back spasms. Klein has missed the first three games of the season with back spasms. … San Jose scratched D Dylan DeMelo, and C Ryan Carpenter and C Micheal Haley. . Saturday Night Live actor Michael Che was among the announced 18,006 in attendance.
SHARKS: visit Brooklyn on Tuesday night for a game against the New York Islanders.
RANGERS: host Detroit in a nationally televised game Wednesday night.