The First Niagara Center was the venue tonight, as the New York Rangers paid the Buffalo Sabres a visit. Buffalo was looking to make it a two-game win streak after topping the Toronto Maple Leafs the night prior, as the Rangers were looking to bounce back after losing to the New York Islanders on the sixth of March.
Antti Raanta got the call in between the pipes for the Rangers with Robin Lehner at the opposite end.
Quick note: White jerseys at home. Make it a permanent thing, National Hockey League.
The first period started off at a very quick pace, as both teams went back and forth with the puck with the best chance coming from a big scramble in front of the Rangers’ net that was eventually covered by Raanta. It was an especially good start for Buffalo, as they didn’t allow a goal in the first minute! (Hip hip, HOORAY!)
Buffalo found themselves shorthanded six-and-a-half minutes in, as Zach Bogosian was called for a delay of game penalty. Less than a minute later, Derick Brassard sprung himself free of either Sabres d-men and put the puck by Robin Lehner on a breakaway for the first goal of the game.
Buffalo found themselves back in the penalty box as Rasmus Ristolainen was called for interference as he wiped out J.T. Miller. This penalty kill went much better for the Sabres, as they successfully killed off the infraction and ended up with two great scoring chances of their own.
That penalty kill seemed to give Buffalo a little bit of life, as they found some more good scoring chances throughout the rest of the period. At the end of the first, the score was 1-0 in favor of New York. While the Sabres had an 8-6 lead in shots on goal.
Just under five minutes into the second frame, Mats Zuccarello made it a 2-0 game by firing the puck between the legs of Robin Lehner, who was in an awkward position along his left post with his right leg flush to the ice and right leg angled up into his body. This was just after a good chance by the Sabres, in which Cal O’Reilly couldn’t connect on a pass in front of goal.
And before I could even finish out that last paragraph, Jesper Fast made it 3-0 with a one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle. This gave Dan Byslma the decision to exchange Lehner for Chad Johnson in goal. At this point, the Rangers were easily in the driver’s seat, showing Buffalo what it takes to be a top team in the NHL. I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but the Rangers were also without Rick Nash, Marc Staal AND Henrick Lundqvist.
Just beyond the halfway point of the second period, Buffalo broke out on a 3-on-1 and an absolutely beautiful pass and finish from Jack Eichel to Sam Reinhart for his 19th of the year made it 3-1 Rangers. These kids can really play. If you don’t think so, you probably write for the Toronto Star.
At the 16:40 mark of the second, the Sabres clawed their way back within one. Brian Gionta slipped a pass from the left wall to Johan Larsson, whom was crashing down into the slot and slapped the puck past Raanta. Larsson continues his late season surge by putting away his sixth goal of the year, along with plenty of strong play down on the third line.
At the end of two, the Rangers were still up by a single tally, but not after both teams scored twice. Making the score 3-2 and New York outshooting Buffalo 16-9.
Four and a half minutes into the third period, the Sabres got their first powerplay opportunity of the game as Viktor Stalberg launched the puck up and over the glass for a delay of game penalty. Buffalo got a few shots on goal but weren’t able to capitalize on the man advantage.
Buffalo put the Rangers back on their heels for most of the third period. Heavy forechecking and tape-to-tape passes had the Rangers spinning in circles, unable to gain possession. After plenty of pressure in the offensive zone, Buffalo eventually drew a penalty. Derek Stepan, two minutes for interference.
The Sabres had a couple good chances with the man advantage, but Antti Raanta stood tall and kept his team ahead.
With two minutes left, Chad Johnson was pulled from his net to give the Sabres the extra man. But J.T. Miller worked the puck out of the zone and put the game on ice, as he scored the empty netter to make it a 4-2 victory for the Rangers.
- Johan Larsson finding his place
Johan Oskar Torgny Larsson has made great strides following the All-Star break. With three goals in his last four games, it looks as if the young Swede is finding his place on the Sabres roster. His place being in front of goal, relying on his quick hands and reflexes. His biggest asset right now is team captain Brian Gionta and the strong play he’s delivered recently as well.
While Larsson may not be the top six forward he had hoped to be, he has to be feeling very confident with his play as of late. Third line scoring is eternally important in the game of hockey, and if he can continue to provide, then Larsson will cement his place on this team furthermore.
- Young stars shine bright
Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart continue their torrid run of goals and assists for the Sabres. It’s simple really. These guys are good. Like….seriously good. They show speed, strength, patience with the puck. Just about every feature you would hope to see out of someone drafted so high.
Eichel: 20G, 26A
Reinhart: 19G, 14 A
Those are numbers anyone would love to see out of their rookies. Anyone else excited for the next 12 years? I know I am.
- Ugly goals
Robin Lehner can play very very well in goal. But despite that, the jury is still out. While Buffalo was back on their heels in the second, Lehner let another goal that shouldn’t have been. His positioning seemed to be fine on the Zuccarello goal, but he stayed high and allowed plenty of space for the puck to go between his legs for what most would call a soft goal.
He has played very strong most nights. But recently, Lehner has allowed a couple of less than stellar pucks behind him. It could be mechanics, it could be a mental lapse. But it is something that needs to be fixed.
- Strength on the blue line
Trending up: Zach Bogosian
Bogosian has played well as of late, and has been putting up the points from the blue line that the Sabres are starting to desperately need.
Trending down: Josh Gorges
Gorges has been good for Buffalo. Not great. But not terrible. He plays his game without many really noticing. While his plus/minus is at a respectable minus-3, his output but be slightly greater than where it currently is.
Now… Who will we see opposite of Rasmus Ristolainen in the coming years? Whomever that may be, it certainly does not look like he is currently on this roster.
- Jekyll and Hyde
The Buffalo Sabres are a team of two personalities. The second period was the perfect display of both examples. In the first 10 minutes, it was mostly New York’s game. As a result, a 1 goal lead quickly evolved into a 3 goal lead. The latter half of the second was all Buffalo. The cycling of the puck, forechecking, passing, and just about everything else was firing on all cylinders. Resulting in the Sabres scoring two goals themselves.
It will come in time, but if Buffalo could find more consistency with their overall play, then the rollercoaster ride of quality of play may level out for the Sabres. But hey, that’s why teams like the Stars, Ducks, Capitals, etc. find themselves at the top.