The New York Rangers entered Halloween's game versus the Buffalo Sabres with renewed confidence. Two nights ago, the team went to Long Island and spoiled Thomas Vanek's debut with the Islanders by defeating them 3-2 in Nassau Coliseum.
On Thursday night, the increasingly cohesive Rangers earned their first home victory of the season, their second win in
a row, and their third win in four games by defeating the Sabres 2-0 in front of the very happy Garden faithful.
The Buffalo Sabres - the youngest team in the NHL, came into this contest with a ghoulish 2-11-1 record (worst start in team history), the worst offense in the NHL (1.57 goals per game), and a loss to the Dallas Stars in their last game.
The Sabres also brought with them forward Matt Moulson, the player who was traded in exchange for the much-heralded Vanek. This was Moulson's second game with the team, after scoring two goals in his Sabre debut against the Stars. Tonight, the Rangers defense must have spooked him as well.
The Rangers entered the game with three wins in their last six games and Henrik Lundqvist, who started his second in
three games after returning from an undisclosed injury. He looked sharp throughout, making 29 saves, to earn his 47th career regular season shutout and second shutout of the season. Lundqvist is now just two shutouts away from tying the Rangers record for career shutouts, held by the great Eddie Giacomin.
The game began with the Rangers looked disorganized in the defensive zone as the Sabres were able to rattle off three
shots in the first couple of minutes. But, the Rangers escaped trouble and settled down, taking over the game with puck possession and generating a number of quality scoring chances.
The Rangers' pressure led to a penalty on Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers. On the ensuing power play, the Rangers' power play kept the puck moving and kept the puck in the offensive zone with some great passing. Derick Brassard was able to get an accurate slap shot off and zipped it past Miller to give the Rangers their fourth power play goal in four games and the 1-0 advantage. With this goal, the Sabres have been outscored in the first period 20-1 this season.
After the successful power play, the Rangers kept pouring it on with some of the best forechecking of the season. By
the middle of the first period, the Rangers had outshot the Sabres 16-4. At the end of the period, the Rangers had 19
shots on goal, including 15 consecutive shots at one point. Entering the game, so far this season, the Rangers had only
scored first in a game four times - winning three of those games. Also, before this game, the Rangers have led after
the first period only twice this season - against the Los Angeles Kings on October 7 (third game of the season) and
against the Islanders two days ago.
The Rangers' aggressiveness would lead to yet another Ranger power play just 32 seconds in the second period. But, this time, the Buffalo penalty kill showed some aggressiveness of their own and was able to get the puck into the Rangers zone to kill some time. Although the ice didn't seem as tilted in the second period, the Rangers still looked like a team in control. When the puck was in the Rangers' end, the Blueshirts kept most of the activity to the outside. The true quality chances in the game were still coming off of Ranger stick blades by the middle of the period. By the 10 minute mark of the second, the Rangers were outshooting Buffalo 27-10.
As the period continued, the play began to tilt back to the Sabres end of the ice again. The smart and aggressive
Ranger play would lead to a second Ranger goal. After a great play by defenseman Ryan McDonagh to steal the puck in the neutral zone and a solid play by Matz Zuccarello, Chris Krieder would bury the puck in the net for his second of the year and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead. It's only the third time this season the Rangers had a two goal lead (vs. LA Oct. 7 and vs. vs. Washington Oct. 16). Krieder now has goals in consecutive games.
The Sabres did have a few more scoring chances in the second period than they did in the first. But, the King was sharp despite the inactivity. His best save of the second period came with less than a minute in the second period when he stopped Sabre defenseman Jamie McBain point blank. The Rangers would end the period with a 38-18 shot advantage, meaning the team garnered 19 shots in both the first and second periods. The Rangers' season high for shots was 40 shots on goal they had in the 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings this past Saturday. The Rangers would end up with 46 shots on goal by the end of this game.
At the start of the third period, the Sabres stepped up their play, but despite keeping the puck in the Rangers' end for
a couple of minutes, they couldn't generate a decent scoring chance from it. As the period progresses, play was a bit
more even than earlier in the game. The Sabres started to show more gusto and work towards possessing the puck more often. With less than seven minutes to go, Buffalo's leading scorer Cody Hodgson started an odd man rush, but Lundqvist came up back for the Rangers before the puck was cleared out of the zone. The Rangers' star goaltender also made some decent saves through traffic as well.
The Sabres decided to pull Miller from their net for the extra skater with 2:15 remaining in regulation. Marcus Foligno, son of current New Jersey Devil assistant coach and former Sabre forward Mike Foligno, was robbed by a great Lundqvist glove save after a quick turnaround shot in the slot. After both teams called timeouts, a Hodgson slapshot hit the leg of Sabre forward Tyler Ennis and went on goal, but once again, Lundqvist was in position to make the save. Soonafter, the Rangers were able to close it out and build some necessary momentum as their next three games -all at home - are against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ryan Miller had a great game, stopping 44 of New York's 46 shots on goal, but without goal support - which has been an issue with the Sabres (2-12-1) so far this season - he suffered yet another loss.
The Rangers (5-7-0) look like a different team with the return of Carl Hagelin and not just for his speed, but for the immediate chemistry that seems to have been formed between him and winger Benoit Pouliot. At a time when the Rangers recent injuries have left them desperate to find scoring from other sources, Pouliot now has two goals in his last three games. Hagelin returned on Tuesday for the Islander game, and throughout, it seemed both players always knew where the other one was on the ice. They generate some good scoring chances together, barely missed on a few, and connected on the eventual game winner on Tuesday.
Also, Chris Krieder has probably been the best skater on the Rangers team over the last few games. Since being called up, Krieder has somewhat resembled Ryan Callahan with tenacious play all over the ice. He's played a clean game, skated hard, and has been in the right places at the right times. Krieder's presence on the power play has made a difference. He has rather smartly placed himself in front of the net and made it more difficult for opposing goaltenders - something Ranger players have not done on the power play in recent years.
In the last few games, the Rangers special teams units have been solid, especially with the power play. The players are moving, players are getting used to each other, and it seem players are also getting used to the system. The Rangers are shooting more often on the power play, which has been an excruciating issue with the man advantage, again, in recent years.
The penalty kill has also been more effective recently. The box is tight, the players have been aggressive at the right
times, and communication between players have been much improved when compared to the first few games of the season.
In the meantime, there's been no new news on forward Rick Nash, as he is still out indefinitely due to a concussion. Ryan Callahan will return to the team in seven to ten days as he recovers from a broken thumb. In the Islander game, Dominic Moore sustained a strained oblique muscle and he will also be able to return to the team in seven to ten days.
The Rangers' next game will on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, which feature two of Ranger defenseman Marc Staal's brothers - Eric, the captain of the team, and Jordan, the alternate captain. The Hurricanes' leading scorer, Jeff Skinner, will not be playing that game. He has been placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury.