Ryan Strome’s unit hasn’t had the puck enough and the second-line center knows it.
“Off the first two games, I definitely think I and our line can be better,” Strome told The Post following Thursday’s practice. “When I’m successful, I have the puck but so far I’ve been chasing the puck too much and because we’re doing too much scrambling as a line, we’re not getting enough shots and opportunities from prime areas.
“The time we’ve spent together through these practices this week should be a help. I think we’re developing some chemistry. It’s not like we’re just an up-and-down, blue-collar line. You look at Kreids [Chris Kreider] and Kaapo [Kakko] and these guys have pretty unique skill sets.
“It’s up to all of us to be a little bit better but there’s certainly more that I can do to help.”
Let’s get as quickly as possible to the disclaimer. The Rangers foresaw Filip Chytil as their second-line center entering training camp. Strome was always a fail-safe Plan B.
Thing is, with the Oilers due at the Garden for Saturday afternoon’s match — A game! A game! — this unit can’t afford to fail. It is the second scoring unit that through the teeny, tiny sample size of two games has neither scored nor created a notable number of legitimate opportunities.
“They haven’t had enough zone time, for sure. There’s got to be way more hardness around pucks,” David Quinn said. “It starts in the D-zone where we’re not supporting pucks enough and when we get it, we’re not going north. There’s a little bit too much hesitation. There’s got to be more quickness to their recognition of when they go north with it, whatever the play dictates. I just don’t think they’re playing fast enough.
“[There’s] a little too much circling, not physical around the puck enough. That’s something our group needs to do a better job of. As I’ve said, we need more out of that line in general and we need a little bit more out of each guy. But I’m feeling pretty good about them.”
Kreider harkened back to words of wisdom imparted by one-time teammates Derek Stepan and Rick Nash in evaluating the line’s work. It essentially aligned with the coach’s evaluation.
“Step and Nasher always said that if you take care of the defensive zone, that’s when you get your scoring chances,” Kreider told The Post. “A lot of it is a matter of us becoming comfortable with each other and learning tendencies. I think it’s been a good week of practice for us.”
When Strome was acquired from the Oilers in exchange for Ryan Spooner last Nov. 16, he had one goal and one assist in 18 games. It took the 26-year-old some time to settle in a defined role, but he finished with 17 points in the final 22 games (11-6) after being elevated to consistent top-six duty.
“No matter how many years you have in the league or what you’ve accomplished before, so much of the game is dependent upon having confidence,” Strome said. “I remember how it felt last year when I came. You want to contribute, you want to do your job.
“I was talking to my brother [Chicago’s 22-year-old Dylan Strome] the other day, asking him what he thinks about preparing for a game and he said he visualizes what he’s going to do with the puck when he has it in certain situations and never thinks about the result. I think that’s the correct approach. You have to stay in that head space.”
Again. The Rangers have played two games. The Kreider-Strome-Kakko unit has been on the ice for 16:28 of five-on-five play, per Naturalstattrick.com. But there is one component of the line’s work to be scrutinized and that is whether veterans Strome and Kreider feel added pressure/responsibility to get Kakko his first goal.
“A little bit on my part,” Strome said. “The other night off a faceoff, he missed the net and I could see him sag just for a second. We want to get him his first one.”
They want to get the second-overall draft pick his first one, but recognize that it must come organically.
“Kaapo is playing top-six and against top-six in the hardest league in the world as an 18-year-old,” Kreider said. “He’s not used to competing against that skill level on a daily basis.
“There’s so much that goes into being successful at this level as a young player, and a lot of that is nuance and detail. He’s played two games. Every day he practices, he gets batter. I wouldn’t worry about it.”