For reasons that only can be explained by say, Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma or his skating shotgun Jack Eichel, the under-.500 Buffalonians managed to disarm the Blueshirts a lot easier than other bottom-feeder teams.
Last December 1, for example, Eichel’s two third-period goals gave Buffalo a 4-3 win and should have alerted the Blueshirts about similar dangers last night. But The Garden result was another Sabres victory, this time 4-1, and not something Alain Vigneault‘s skaters wanted to take to Philadelphia today (Wednesday) for this evening’s encounter with the Flyers.
And let’s not forget that John Tortorella’s sensationally sizzling Blue Jackets will be waiting for the Blueshirts on Saturday night in Columbus.
OVERVIEW: The easy explanation for last night’s loss is that the Blueshirts may have suffered a case of overconfidence after wins over bottom-feeding Arizona and Colorado. Whatever the reason, toss this in the Clunker Category and see if the club can do right on Broad Street tonight.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- FLAT FIRST: Riding a three-game winning streak, the Rangers played a pancake-flat first period and found themselves down 2-0 faster than you can say “Anders Nilsson in goal for Buffalo.” New York never recovered from the deficit.
- SINBIN-ITIS: Discipline was not the forte of the Seventh Avenue Skaters. Down by two goals in the third, the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey took a two-minute penalty. Easy Eichel made the home team pay with a power play goal that put the game out of reach.
- TURNOVER TOWN: Rangers passes lacked their usual crisp quality, leading to turnovers galore. Exhibit A was an errant Kevin Klein puck-skim toward center where it was intercepted by Justin Bailey who promptly beat Henrik Lundqvist to make it a three-zip game (this, by the way, was not your normal dreaded three-goal lead).
- SIXTY MINUTES — OR BUST: Although the Sabres are an under-.500 team, that does not negate the fact that they can beat the Rangers if New York fails to produce a 60-minute effort. It happened in Buffalo in December and the feat was repeated last night.
- LEFT BEHIND BY LOOKING AHEAD: This is pure Maven conjecture, but it’s possible that A.V.’s crew fell prey to thinking about upcoming big games with the Flyers and Blue Jackets, while assuming all would go well against the Buffs. N.G. = Not Good.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- HOLDEN HIS OWN: Defenseman Nick Holden continues to illuminate the red light and now leads New York defensemen in goals with a totally unexpected eight.
- CHRIS CRASHING: Granted that Chris Kreider was held goal-less, but he continued to have a positive net presence. Once again he went to the ‘dirty’ areas, but this time he was not rewarded although he generated scoring opportunities.
TURNING POINT: Eichel’s third-period power play goal cut the Rangers hopes like a sharp saber.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We didn’t do a good enough job preparing our team. There are no easy games in this league. We weren’t ready when the game started and our execution was non-existent. We didn’t have a D who could make a pass.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “You could tell in the first 10 minutes that the Sabres were hungry. They came with a lot of speed and desperation. A lot of times that’s what’s going to win hockey games.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “It took a half a period for us to get a shot on goal. They outworked us in the first period and there’s no excuse for that. We didn’t get enough pucks on their goalie and we didn’t fight to get in front of their net.”
- MSG NETWORK’S JOE MICHELETTI: “The Sabres came hard from the opening face-off and outworked the Rangers, put pressure on them and caused turnovers.”
- REPORTER SAM STERN: “It shouldn’t be hard for the Rangers to recover in time for the crucial game in Philly. The Metropolitan race is too close for New York to take any games off.”
NEXT GAME: Tonight at Philadelphia, 8 p.m. TV, NBCSN.
OUTLOOK: If the Rangers thought the Sabres were hungry, they’ll find an equally determined outfit on Broad Street. Ever tough, the Bullies have been exceeding expectations and are hard on the Rangers heels. If that isn’t a challenge enough, the Almost-Never-Lose Blue Jackets will be awaiting the Rangers on Saturday night in Columbus.
By Sunday morning we’ll know a lot more about the Blueshirts resiliency than we do right now.