The Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers will meet for the final time this season in Buffalo tonight. The Sabres have won the first two meetings and are going for the season series sweep. The Sabres won the first matchup in Jack Eichel’s first home game of the season with a thrilling third-period comeback, then outplayed the Rangers for the majority of the game just a month ago in Madison Square Garden for a 4-1 victory.
Both clubs come into tonight off of bad losses on Tuesday. The Sabres fell 5-2 to the Montreal Canadiens while the Rangers suffered a 6-4 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The poor defensive play was the primary reason on both sides for the lopsided defeats and have been the big downfall for the two teams throughout the season.
After such a great start to the season, the Rangers have struggled to find the game that made them so successful in the first two months of the season. They’re starting to lose ground in the Metropolitan Division and are also seeing their once comfortable lead shrink in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
For the Sabres, it’s the same old story — they find ways to get themselves within a few points of the playoff picture and then hit a skid. They find themselves down seven points in the wild-card race and nine points behind third place in the Atlantic Division entering play tonight.
This is the last chance for them to really make a push to the playoffs. They have two games against the Ottawa Senators over the next two weeks, as well as one game each against the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils. All four of those games looking like must-wins if they want to continue any realistic hope of being a playoff contender.
New York Rangers at Buffalo Sabres
Key Bank Center – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – NBCSN, TVAS & SNO
2016-17 Season Series: December 1st, Sabres 4 Rangers 3 | January 3rd, Sabres 4 Rangers 1
New York Rangers – 31-18-1 – 63 Points
Road Record: 17-7-0
Hot Players: J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner
Key Injuries: Kevin Hayes
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Derek Stepan – Rick Nash
Michael Grabner – J.T. Miller – Jesper Fast
Matt Puempel – Brandon Pirri – Pavel Buchnevich
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Nick Holden
Brady Skjei – Kevin Klein
* Lines subject to change
Buffalo Sabres – 20-20-9 – 49 Points
Home Record: 11-8-3
Hot Players: Evander Kane and Brian Gionta
Key Injuries: Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Johan Larsson
Marcus Foligno – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Kyle Okposo – Ryan O’Reilly – Matt Moulson
Evander Kane – Zemgus Girgensons – Brian Gionta
Tyler Ennis – Nic Deslauriers – William Carrier
Rasmus Ristolainen – Dmitry Kulikov
Zach Bogosian – Justin Falk
Taylor Fedun – Cody Franson
** Lines subject to change.
1) After starting off slow at home at the beginning of the season, the Sabres have won their last four in the confines of Key Bank Center, winning those by a combined score of 15-7. The last loss at home came on Dec. 29 against the Boston Bruins. If they can keep the good karma at home going this month the Sabres could be in store for a climb in the standings with nine of the 14 games in February being in Buffalo.
2) The Sabres have not lost a game in regulation all season when Jack Eichel has scored a goal. He has three goals in the two meetings against the Rangers this season, including scoring the tying and winning goal back in December’s matchup. Eichel will be a key player again for the Sabres to lead the offense against a poor Rangers defense.
3) Robin Lehner and Henrik Lundqvist will be in net tonight. Lehner was on a hot streak before giving up five goals to the Canadiens on Tuesday, although it could be argued that Lehner was hung out to dry by his poor defense and he actually played pretty well. Lundqvist was pulled against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday and has had a surprisingly poor season thus far. He has a 2.78 goals against average and .905 save percentage in 37 appearances.
4) Michael Grabner has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers this season. He has 22 goals on the season, all of which have either come at even strength or shorthanded. Grabner has the dangerous speed that has made him a threat throughout his career. He’s a guy the Sabres will need to keep tabs on tonight.
5) Special teams may play a factor tonight in determining a winner. Last time these two teams met in Buffalo the Rangers were two-for-two with the man-advantage while the Sabres were one-for-two. Buffalo comes in with the fifth-ranked power play in the league while the Rangers hold the 15th ranked penalty kill — the Rangers, though, are second in the NHL in shorthanded goals with seven.