Watch out Rangers, the Sabres are coming.
Even though the Sabres are last in the Eastern Conference, they’re coming off an impressive 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets and are extra motivated to beat the Blueshirts.
On New Year’s Day, the Sabres took the Rangers to the limit before J.T. Miller won the NHL’s annual winter spectacle in overtime; giving the Broadway Blueshirts the 3-2 victory.
But Miller’s goal was not with controversy as many analysts bemoaned the original penalty call; stating the referee should have swallowed his whistle.
The Sabres were diplomatic afterwards, but losing a game in that fashion never sits well with players. Therefore the visitors will have payback on their minds when they enter MSG.
The Rangers need to be prepared and match the Sabres intensity from the start.
A trait of the Blueshirts’ season has been slow starts followed by a rebound second period and then a tightly contested third.
That won’t cut it against Buffalo. The Rangers need to come out flying. And thankfully they will have some momentum on their side, courtesy of a 5-1 win against Philadelphia Tuesday night.
The Blueshirts face a stiff test next week as they travel to California for their annual west coast trip against the Kings, Ducks and Sharks. And this time, they start the trip with a pit stop in Colorado against the surging Avalanche.
Therefore, the Rangers need to secure two points against Buffalo and get on a roll as the schedule does them no favors in the coming weeks.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Rangers’ Assistant Coach Lindy Ruff spent time as the Sabres Head Coach for parts of 15-years (1997-2013). He holds several franchise head coaching records, including: games coached (1,165) and wins (571). Ruff also played 10 seasons with the Sabres (1979-1989).
Blueshirts’ Associate Coach Scott Arniel played four seasons for Buffalo (1986-1990). Arniel also served as an Assistant Coach with the Sabres for three years (2002-2006).
Jim Schoenfeld (Rangers’ Senior Vice President, Assistant General manager) played 11 campaigns with the Sabres (1972-1982; 1984-85). He is a member of the Sabres Hall of Fame and Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Chris Drury (Blueshirts’ Assistant General Manager & General Manager, Hartford Wolf Pack) played three seasons for the Sabres (2003-2007) and was the Sabres’ captain for all three campaigns. He also served as Rangers’ Captain from 2008-2011.
Benoit Pouliot helped the 7th Avenue Skaters reach the Stanley Cup Final in his only season with the Blueshirts (2013-14).
Justin Falk also was a part of the Rangers’ team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-14.
Chad Johnson made six appearances over parts of two seasons for the Rangers (2009-2011).
Mats Zuccarello: The scrappy winger is closing in on more career milestones. He is six goals and six points away from 100 and 300 respectively in his NHL career.
David Desharnais: The diminutive center is five games away from 500 in his NHL career.
PLAYER TO WATCH
SABRES: JACK EICHEL. The Sabres wonderkid has six points in his last three games and has been one of the hottest players in the NHL over the past two months. At his best, Eichel is a generational talent capable of changing the fortunes of an entire franchise. Unfortunately, the injury bug and a troubled organization have thus far prevented him from reaching those heights. But he looks to be turning a corner this season and that could spell trouble for the Sabres’ opponents.
RANGERS: HENRIK LUNDQVIST. Coming off a history-making effort against the Flyers, The King is looking to continue to add to his impressive legacy. In his last 10 games against the Sabres, Lundqvist is a sparkling 7-2-0 with a 2.12 GAA, .924 SV% and one shutout. Among those wins is his NHL record-making performance in the 2018 Winter Classic. Lundqvist’s win on New Year’s Day makes him the only goaltender in NHL history to hold a 4-0-0 record in outdoor games.
The Rangers were noticeably thin at practice on Wednesday as Marc Staal and Kevin Hayes remained out. Their absence — coupled with the extended loss of Chris Kreider — is going to play a big role in determining the Blueshirts’ fate over the next few weeks.
But the good news is, Kevin Hayes should return in the next few days from his leg contusion. And Marc Staal’s hip flexor injury is minor and will be evaluated on a day-by-day basis.
In other news, Henrik Lundqvist gets the start in net and Steven Kampfer remains in the lineup.
Otherwise, the forward lines are the same as they were against the Flyers.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on NBCSN and MSG Networks at 7:30 pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
The Rangers have a rather road-heavy schedule coming up as they don’t return to the friendly confines of MSG until February 1st.
And even then it’s just for one game as the team then goes back on the road until returning home on February 7th.
This season the Blueshirts are just 7-9-2 on the road; a startling contrast after leading the NHL in road victories last year.
Therefore it’s imperative the Rangers rack up as many points as they can at home, while they still have the chance.