The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres meet for the second time this season on Friday night. Their first match was at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21 and looked to be headed for overtime until defenseman Ryan Lindgren broke the 4-4 tie by scoring the game-winning goal with 0.7 seconds left in regulation. Here’s a look at the storylines ahead of tonight’s game at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
2 Storylines: Buffalo Sabres (8-14-3)
Sabres Have Cooled Off After Hot Start
After earning a solid 5-2-1 record in October, the Sabres struggled in November, with only three wins in 14 games. In nine games that month, they allowed five or more goals, all losses. They are winless in three games in December.
On Dec. 2, the Florida Panthers scored seven goals against them, and the Carolina Hurricanes netted six goals against them on Dec. 4. The Sabres have two goaltenders who are injured and another who is on the COVID-19 protocol list. They have also had trouble scoring, averaging 2.76 goals-for per game played (GF/GP), ranked 22nd in the NHL.
Injuries Have Hampered the Sabres
Goaltender Dustin Tokarski has been out since he was placed on COVID-19 protocol on Dec. 2. He played 14 games – 13 starts – for a 4-5-3 record, a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.28 and a save percentage (SV%) of .903. He has played more than any of the five goaltenders on the roster. The Sabres called up 22-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen from the Rochester Americans on Dec. 6 with the stability concerns the team has had at the position. Aaron Dell is another goaltender who has played for the San Jose Sharks and the New Jersey Devils prior to his tenure with the Sabres.
Joining Tokarski on injured reserve (IR) is goaltender Craig Anderson, who has been dealing with an upper-body injury since Nov. 2. Malcolm Subban, acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 2, suffered a lower-body injury during his first start for the Sabres on Dec. 4 and is day-to-day, though he’s been skating with the team during practice. Forward Alex Tuch, acquired in the Jack Eichel trade, is also on IR with a shoulder injury. He had surgery at the end of July and will be out for about six months.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers (17-5-3)
Winning Streak Ends, Kinkaid Called Up From Wolf Pack
The Blueshirts were defeated by the Colorado Avalanche, 7-3, on Wednesday to snap a seven-game winning streak. A victory against the Sabres on Nov. 21 began the winning streak, and the Rangers have the opportunity to begin another one against the Sabres tonight. The Rangers are 8-2-0 in their last ten games.
With starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin on IR with a lower-body injury sustained on Dec. 3 against the San Jose Sharks, backup Alexandar Georgiev has taken on the starter’s role. Adam Huska, who was called up from the Hartford Wolf Pack to serve as the backup, made his first NHL start against the Avalanche in the loss. His first stint in the league was short-lived as he was returned to the Wolf Pack yesterday while Keith Kinkaid was called up to serve as the backup. Kinkaid has more NHL experience than Huska, and in 11 games this season for the Wolf Pack, he has a stellar 9-1-1 record, a 2.59 GAA, and a .916 SV%
Rangers Have Balance Through Four Lines
After some mixing and matching, head coach Gerard Gallant seems to have found the right chemistry in his four-line combinations to sustain offense. Chris Kreider shouldered much of the scoring, but the team has found more of a balance through the lineup recently. The fourth line of Kevin Rooney, Barclay Goodrow, and Ryan Reaves has played well since Gallant decided to give the combination a look.
Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, who have played together in previous seasons, are also playing well with linemate Dryden Hunt. The ‘Kid Line’ of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Julien Gauthier has provided energy for the Blueshirts since they’ve been put together. The third line has shown bursts of speed and has created scoring chances.
Player To Watch: Jacob Trouba
Jacob Trouba has stepped up offensively and held his own in a couple of fights on back-to-back nights against the Chicago Blackhawks and Avalanche. Against the Blackhawks, he had to answer for a hit on Jujhar Khaira and then on Nathan MacKinnon of the Avs. Khaira had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher while MacKinnon was able to skate off on his own power. The Rangers defenseman, a candidate for the vacant captain position, has points in four of five games in December for a 3-3-6 stat line during the month. He will look to maintain his offensive play in tonight’s game.
The Rangers need to put Wednesday’s loss behind them and respond with a good performance on the road against a Sabres team looking to establish momentum and break a month-long slump. The Blueshirts will try to maintain their position near the top of the Metropolitan Division alongside the Washington Capitals and Hurricanes. Tonight’s game is a good opportunity for the Rangers to start a new winning streak.