Quick Hits: Sabres at Rangers

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The last time the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers had played a game against each other was on March 14, 2015 when the Rangers had shut out the Sabres, 2-0 at the First Niagara Center.

This season, the Sabres have met with every team in the National Hockey League at least once except for the Rangers.

On Monday, the Sabres and Rangers met for the first time this season at Madison Square Garden. After a comeback effort in the third period to tie the game, New York’s offense was too much for the Sabres as Buffalo would fall 6-3 on the road.

The start of the first period saw the Rangers putting up some great pressure early on. Forward Chris Kreider nearly beat Sabres goalie, Chad Johnson just 21-seconds into the game, but he hit the goal post. Moments later, after an atrocious giveaway in the defensive end, Johnson had to make a desperation save with his goal stick on Rangers rookie forward, Oscar Lindberg.

And once again, Johnson would come up strong with a sprawling glove save on Mats Zuccarello.

The Rangers would get on the board first nearly six minutes into the game with a goal from forward, J.T. Miller. Rangers defenseman, Dylan McIlrath took a shot that re-directed off the elbow of Miller and into the back of the net.

A little more than ten minutes later, the Sabres would tie the hockey game thanks to the captain, Brian Gionta. Gionta started the play by bringing the puck into the offensive zone and leaving it off for Marcus Foligno. Foligno would put a shot to the net, and Gionta would bat the puck down and through the five-hole of Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist.

The Sabres and Rangers would go into the intermission tied, and while the Rangers led in shot totals, the Sabres had the most shot attempts on goal.

Johnson would have to be called upon once again in the second period on another chance in front of the net from Kreider. Kreider missed a wide-open net on a tip-in chance, but the puck would bounce back to Kreider’s stick in front. Johnson would get across the crease and make another desperation save to keep the game tied.

The Rangers, however, would regain the lead with a goal from forward, Viktor Stalberg. Kevin Hayes would try a shot on goal that was blocked, but the puck would end up on the stick of Stalberg. Stalberg would put a no-look shot on goal that managed to go through the five-hole of Johnson and in the net.

The Rangers would go into the second intermission with the lead, and also led the Sabres in both shots and shot attempts in the period.

Just 1:06 into the third period, the Rangers would extend its lead to 3-1 with a goal off the skate of Derick Brassard. A cross-ice pass to Brassard from Jesper Fast would re-direct off the skate legally, and it sneaked through the glove side of Johnson.

Even when down 3-1, the Sabres were not out of it just yet.

The combination of Jack Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons would go to work about three and a half minutes after New York took the two-goal lead.

At the 4:31 mark of the third, Eichel was tied up by a couple of Rangers defenders, but managed to kick the puck in front of the net to Girgensons. Girgensons would manage to elevate his shot above Lundqvist and into the net for his fourth goal of the season.

A minute and 13-seconds later, Eichel and Girgensons were back at it as Eichel found Girgensons streaking to the net all alone. Girgensons would get Lundqvist down and going to the right, and Girgensons would put a backhand of the pad of Lundqvist and in the net to tie the game at three.

However, a bad bounce for the Sabres would lead to another Rangers goal just a minute later. On a three-on-two rush, Fast would try to put the puck on the net but it would go off of Zach Bogosian’s stick to Miller. Miller would have a wide-open net to put the Rangers back on top.

Nearly three minutes later, on the powerplay, the Rangers would extend its lead to two goals again thanks to Zuccarello. Derek Stepan put a perfectly placed pass on the tape of Zuccarello at the left faceoff circle, and Zuccarello buried his team-leading 18th goal of the year.

For the Sabres, it was the first powerplay goal against since January 10 against the Winnipeg Jets, ending a streak of 23-straight penalties killed off.

Brassard would put the game away with just 36-seconds left with an empty-net goal to give the Rangers its 6-3 win.

Now, time for the quick hits:

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    • Road success no help

The Sabres have been a better road team this season compared to playing at the First Niagara Center.

Going into Monday night’s game, the Sabres were 10-10-2 on the road, and 9-15-2 on home-ice. Lately, the Sabres have been playing its best hockey on the road as they have won three of the last five road games and being more competitive in every game.

However, against the Rangers, the Sabres did not put up its best effort at Madison Square Garden.

After a decent first period, the Sabres were outmatched in the second period. In the third period, the Sabres showed some resurgence with Girgensons’ goals to tie the game, but broke down after Miller’s goal to regain the lead.

If the Sabres are going to make a rebound for the later portion of the season, the team needs to figure out how to get some wins at home and on the road. If Buffalo continues to struggle, things could get very ugly, very fast.

    • Eichel and Girgensons is a nice combination

If one thing was working on Monday for the Sabres was the combination of Eichel and Girgensons.

While both were on a line with Matt Moulson, Moulson was not much of a factor in the success of the other two guys on the line.

On the first Girgensons goal, Eichel drove the puck into the Rangers zone, and tried to make a nice through-the-legs move to himself around Rangers defenseman, Marc Staal. After that did not work, Eichel continued to protect the puck as he got pressure from Staal and Stepan. Somehow, Eichel managed to kick the puck through his legs to Girgensons in front of the net. Girgensons turned, and then elevated his shot over Lundqvist to make it 3-2.

On the second Girgensons goal, Eichel broke out of his own zone and brought the puck into the Rangers end. Girgensons managed to stay onsides and he got free space in behind Staal. Eichel found Girgensons going to the net and put a perfect backhand pass to Girgensons. Zemgus then deked out Lundqvist enough to put the puck in the back of the net.

Eichel and Girgensons have had playing time together before, and we have seen both guys make some nice plays to create some nice scoring chances. However, Monday night showed that they have some nice chemistry together on the second line.

For a season which has seen a few of Dan Bylsma’s combinations work, keeping Eichel and Girgensons may be the wisest thing to do right now. Buffalo needs wins, and Eichel and Girgensons together will give the Sabres a chance to win every night.

    • Johnson strong, but still no help

Chad Johnson had a decent night in net for the Sabres, and kept this game from finishing a 9-3 final. While Johnson made some highlight reel saves, he did give up a couple of goals that he would probably want back.

The first goal-against on the bounce off of Miller in front was nothing Johnson could do.

On the second goal by Stalberg, Johnson let in a pretty light goal through the five-hole on a weak no-look shot. Johnson failed to get down quick enough, nor did he get his stick down on the ice to prevent the puck from going in.

Then on the third goal, Brassard re-directed a shot off his skate, but Johnson could not quite stop the puck before it got through the glove-side of Johnson.

Johnson has played very well for the Sabres lately, and yes a goalie can give up a bad goal here and there, but when playing a team like the Rangers you need some strong goaltending in order to have a chance. While Johnson did a nice job for the most part, tonight was close but no cigar.

    • 30th place before All-Star Break?

Who would have thought that the Sabres could be in last place in the NHL standings going into the All-Star Break this year? It could very well happen.

With a regulation loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, the Sabres will sit at 19-27-4 with 42 points.

With a Columbus Blue Jackets win over the nose-diving Montréal Canadiens on Tuesday night, Columbus would move ahead the Sabres in the standings with 43 points.

Now the Sabres are not trying to finish last in the standings, however it has been a struggle lately for the Sabres. It may be tough to hang with what is happening this season, but the Sabres have the talent to be a much better team years down the road. Compared to last year, the Sabres are in much better spirits than in 2014-15.

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Written by Brayton Wilson

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