The Rangers welcome the Buffalo Sabres to Madison Square Garden tonight for a 7:30 PM (EST) puck drop over on NBCSN. The last time these two met, it was -2 degrees, the sun was shining, the wind was cold, and multiple fans and players may have walked away with frostbite. The Rangers played the Sabres in the Winter Classic this year on January 1st, which was an eventful game, that resulted in a Rangers overtime win, off a point shot from Kevin Shattenkirk(last time Shattenkirk recorded a point) and tap in goal from JT Miller.
Well, now 17 days later they meet again. The Sabres are one of the worst teams in the NHL, with a record of 11-24-9, with 31 points, -52 goal differential and ranked 30th in the NHL. Let’s just say it is impossible for them to make the playoffs. The Rangers are 17th in the NHL(4th in the division), a record of 23-17-5, with 51 points, +7 goal differential and battling for some playoff separation.
A look at the Sabres…
The Sabres are led by one of the youngs greatest, Jack Eichel, who despite the poor season of Buffalo, yet again Eichel is almost a point per game player. As he has 41 points in 44 games, tallying 18 goals and 23 assists. Next in line, a player that is being rumored to be traded soon, Evander Kane who has 36 points in 44 games. And after Ryan O’Reilly’s 30 points, it is very staggering and minimal the amount of point distribution on this team. Which is one the Sabres problems as they struggle with depth scoring as Buffalo ranks dead last among NHL teams in goals for this season(99) and tied for the leagues worst 2.3 goals per game.
This problem stems from players like James Pominville playing poorly, Sam Reinhart, Benoit Pouliot, Zamus Girgensons and a lack of defensive scoring. Take away Rasmus Ristolainen’s 16 points, the Sabres defense as a whole has 35 points between seven players. The Sabres starting goaltender Robin Lehner who in years past is used to facing the most shots against among all NHL goaltenders but this season he ranks 18th for shots against, and has a 9-16 record in 31 games started with 2.94 goals against and .910 save percentage. The 26-year-old goaltender is trying to find a home as a solid starting goaltender and in the last year of his contract he was hoping to post some stellar numbers to get a look at by other NHL teams(which is still possible) but it seems Lehner may not be moving far from Buffalo.
A look at the Rangers…
The Rangers are looking to pick up back to back wins for the first time in over a month. They are led by Henrik Lundqvist, I am not sure “led” really does justice to what Lundqvist does for this team. He is like the head wolf of the wolf pack that just does it all and is the main reason this team is in it right now. His All-Star year, recently cracking an NHL record of thirteen consecutive seasons with 20 wins and on the year he is 20-11-4 in 38 games started with a 2.54 GAA and .924 save percentage(ranked among the top ten in save % and goals against).
The Rangers offense is led by Mats Zuccarello with 32 points in 44 games, JT Millers 28 points in 45 games, Michael Grabner’s 20 goals in 44 games but after that, it evens out, but as you can tell the Rangers lack a great deal of depth scoring/goal scoring in general. Their “superstar” Rick Nash has been lackluster this season throwing 142 shots on net while only collecting 11 goals, shooting at a 7.7 percent(among one of the worst in the NHL). Mika Zibanejad was hurt for an extended period of time, and now Chris Kreider is out as well, they have struggled to see consistent scoring from certain players like Buchnevich and Nash. Despite a lack of depth scoring the Rangers do still rank 12th in the NHL for goals for(134) and 9th for goals per game(9) but also allow 2.76 goals against per game.
Now throw into the mix of lack of depth scoring, almost zero defensive scoring, when the defense is led by Kevin Shattenkirk a player that has not scored in 28 games and has yet to record a point in 17 days, the Rangers defense struggles immensely not only on the offensive side of things but defensive as well. Kevin Shattenkirk has 60 giveaways, McDonagh 48, Smith 41, and surprisingly enough Marc Staal has the least giveaways among Rangers defenseman with 28. The Rangers problems stem from this defense and forward, they need to fix things up in the defensive zone, make simple plays, use their forwards speed and learn to break out of the zone on the first attempt not the fourth.
What can we expect tonight?
I would hope a Rangers win as the Sabres have a -52 goal differential, and have won five games on the road this season and have won a total of one game this month. But, what we all know will happen is that it will be a close game. A game where the Rangers come out slow, let the Sabres hang around and have to turn it up the third to come out with a win. The starters tonight are Robin Lehner and Henrik Lundqvist.
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