The New York Rangers will face the Buffalo Sabres tonight at MSG on national tv in yet another game with major playoff implications. The Rangers are coming off a loss they truly didn’t deserve against the Lightning on Sunday but are still in a relatively comfortable position, sitting 7th in the east. However, though Buffalo is five points behind the Rangers in the standings, they also have 3 more games left to play than the Rangers do. Thus, tonight is incredibly important game for both teams. With less games to play, ones like tonight are that much more necessary to win. The Rangers’ being home is not necessarily an advantage, as the Rangers have been better on the road this year, while Buffalo is also a superior road team. However, since the lockout the Rangers have had a knack for winning key games at the end of the season is Madison Square Garden. Let’s look at the keys to the game:
Buffalo’s Big Three: The Rangers will be without Marc Staal once again, so that’s going to hurt the Rangers on defensive. Much like against Washington and Buffalo, the key to suppressing the Sabrs tonight is to shut down their top three guys, who make up most of their true scoring talent. Drew Stafford and Tomas Vanek are number one and two in scoring for the Sabres this year and have combined for 47 goals. Meanwhile, the addition of Brad Boyes from the Blues at the deadline yesterday adds yet another sniper to their lineup. After those three, the Sabres are made up of grinding north-south players, not unlike the Rangers. Those three are truly the ones that need to be watched.
Grinding: Transitioning off of what I mentioned at the end of the previous topic, Buffalo is similar to the Rangers in that, especially with a coach like Lindy Ruff, will make up for a lack of talent with hard effort. The Rangers are going to have to go above and beyond tonight in outworking Buffalo and keeping a high tempo for a full 60 minutes. Buffalo is not going to allow the Rangers to take time off. They can’t afford to not show up for a period tonight.The forecheck has to be strong. They have to hit the defensemen along the boards. They need to keep an active stick in the neutral zone. This absolutely has to be a full game effort.
Powerplay: Buffalo’s penalty kill is 20th in the league, so not very good. Of course, their best penalty killer is going to be their goalie, Ryan Miller. Thus, the Rangers are going to have to succeed on the penalty kill by beating the defenders, and not primarily the goalie. Perimeter shots aren’t worth it. Though they didn’t score, the Rangers’ power play at the end of the game on Sunday was great, especially with McCabe at the point. They got the puck into high scoring areas. They simply didn’t get a bounce. The Rangers need build off of that tonight.
The game is on Versus tonight at 7PM. Lundqvist is of course getting the start, and I expect him to be on the top of his game, as he knows how to elevate his play in important situations. As I mentioned, Staal is still out after suffering a setback in practice, and Fedotenko won’t be playing, either.