Published by hockeybuzz.com, 1-19-2018
The 30th place Buffalo Sabres came out of their league mandated hockey hiatus with a game against the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night. Bright lights, big city, and a Rangers team trying to turn things around before they head out West for a four-game road-trip prior to the All-Star break.
While the Sabres were scattered about completely away from team functions for five of their six days between games, the Rangers were busy busting out of a three-game losing streak that left their hold on a wild card slot in a precarious position. The Blueshirts ended that slump in a big way as they thumped the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 on Tuesday and facing a 11-24-9 Sabres team coming out of their bye looked to be a good follow up for them.
Sure enough New York got the ball rolling very early with a breakaway goal by Rick Nash less than two minutes into the game and owned much of the first period. However, the Sabres, rather surprisingly, gathered their senses and tied the score with, of all things, a powerplay goal. Yes, the NHL's worst powerplay (17 of 132, 12.9%) got the team on the board against the league's second-best penalty kill, compliments of Kyle Okposo.
It would be the first of three separate occasions where Buffalo would answer a Rangers goal with one of their own. Two came on the powerplay and one came from the stick of Justin Falk who scored his first goal since March 6, 2015, a span of 100 games for him.
All things considered, the Sabres played well against a desperate Rangers team who ramped up their game to near playoff levels. Had Buffalo not had a breakdown late in the third after tying it 3-3, and had there been someone else in net other than Henrik Lundqvist, it may have went to overtime.
Perhaps, as some in the media have said, being out of the playoff race already has them playing looser than they did earlier in the season. Buffalo had some nice flow to their game at times, looked real sharp on the powerplay and their top players up front did what they were supposed to do in creating opportunities. But defensive breakdowns still haunt them and goalie Robin Lehner's over commitment at times makes it too easy for the opposition.
Buffalo plays a matinee at home against the Dallas Stars on Saturday before heading out for their final Western swing of the season. They head to Calgary on Monday, Edmonton on Tuesday and play their final game before the All-Star break against Vancouver on Thursday.