New York Rangers can’t let up against improved Buffalo Sabres

The New York Rangers look to continue their push up the standings Sunday when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

The Rangers are within reach of top spot in the Metropolitan Division, currently held by the Carolina Hurricanes, with the Pittsburgh Penguins also in their way. They’ve earned wins against both clubs of late, most recently a 5-1 triumph against Pittsburgh on Friday.

That boosted New York to 5-2-0 in its past seven games. The Rangers have done it with consistency, never losing more than two in a row since early November (when they went 0-1-2), and they haven’t lost three straight in regulation at any point this season.

New York Rangers coming off dominant performance

“When you think you’re a good hockey team and you want to be a good hockey team, you don’t get in long losing streaks,” coach Gerard Gallant said.

“We were upset the other night,” he noted about Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in New Jersey. “We had two good games in a row … then we played in New Jersey and there wasn’t a whole lot in the tank there. It’s good when you can shake things off like that and come back and play one of your best games of the year.”

Chris Kreider continues to have a remarkable season, scoring another two goals against the Penguins to bring his career-best total to 44 – 16 more than he’s ever had in his 10-year career.

“I just think the way Kreids came in from day one at training camp that he wants to be a good player,” Gallant said. “He wants to be a good teammate, and he wants to get the Rangers in the playoffs. He’s had a great season for us so far.”

Rangers lineup taking shape but will change again

New York Rangers
Dec 10, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Victor Olofsson (71) tries to block a pass by New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox (23) during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

After the recent acquisitions of forwards Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Motte the Rangers are suddenly overloaded up front.

Alexis Lafrenière, who was playing on the first line right wing was bumped down to the third line in favor of Vatrano. The move was to get Lafrenière back to his natural left wing position where he is most comfortable, especially defensively.

“I feel like it’s more natural for me coming back into my own zone,” he said after Friday’s win over the Penguins. “It’s things like that where you always a little late (in the d-zone) when you aren’t used to it.”

The additions have already bumped Ryan Reaves and Greg McKegg out of the lineup, and things will get harder for them to get back in once Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney return from IR. Both players are skating on their own and expected back in early April.

“Obviously some guys are gonna be disappointed, they’re not playing as much, that’s all part of it,” Gallant said via the NY Post. “It’s about attitude. Take the right attitude, do what you can do. If you’re not playing, go work hard and be ready for when you do play. It’s not easy, but we’re all trying to win.”

The two most likely candidates to be scratched upon their return are Jonny Brodzinski and Dryden Hunt, both were on the fourth line on Friday.

“It’s a positive for some players and a negative for others,” Gallant explained. “You do the best you can. We just had a little chat (with the players) to stay positive. We’re trying to do this to win hockey games. Have patience. There’s a lot of people on the ice but we’re trying to win hockey games.”

Improved Sabres will be tough

The Sabres are 7-3-1 in March after a shootout loss Friday to the Washington Capitals. The 15 points matches their output from January and February combined, with wins coming against top contenders including the Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

“It shows that we’ve taken a lot of steps and we’re definitely more confident against those (top) teams,” forward Victor Olofsson said. “I think it really shows just a confidence in every line and ‘D’ pair out there. We’ve been very hard to play against it feels like so we’re definitely on the right path.”

Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner continue to battle it out for goal-scoring leader on the team, with Skinner tallying twice against Washington to move within one of team-leader Thompson (27).

Thompson has five points in a four-game point streak and seven points in his past six games, while Skinner has three goals and four points in a three-game streak.

Forward Cody Eakin and defenseman Colin Miller did not practice Saturday but Granato said both “should play” against the Rangers.

NHL Roundup

Get up to speed on all the action from Saturday night. Recap the 14 goal explosion between the Flames and Oilers. Marc-Andre Fleury win his Wild debut, and much more here.

–Field Level Media contributed to this report