Can Rangers Keep It Going Against Sabres?

The Rangers host the Buffalo Sabres this evening at The Garden for the second of three meetings between the two clubs.

[Watch Rangers-Sabres Tonight on MSG & MSG GO]

The teams met for the first time this season at Citifield, playing in this years’ Winter Classic on New Years Day. J.T. Miller scored on the power play in overtime and the Blueshirts secured a 3-2 victory. It was a beautiful, cold, sunny winter afternoon where the league celebrated it’s outdoor roots.

For those of us who had the chance to play outdoors in our youth, the spectacle provided another opportunity to pause and reflect upon the game of hockey and it’s innocent past. Find a frozen pond, lake or river, clean it off, choose up sides and go play. Nothing better.

The Rangers enter tonight’s game coming off a very sound 60-minute tilt that saw them handily defeat the Flyers, 5-1. Rick Nash scored twice, after going without a goal in his previous twelve games. For this edition of the Rangers, Nash is a tremendously important player within the locker room and on the ice. He is a committed three-zone player and by all accounts, offers the most steady hand during the ups and downs of the long regular season.

Al Trautwig and Steve Valiquette look at how the Rangers ended their skid with a commanding victory over the Flyers at The Garden.

Nash’s offensive skill set does not compare with snipers such as Alexander Ovechkin or Nikita Kucherov, yet at the end of the day, he does need to be the goal-scoring catalyst to his club that both Ovechkin and Kucherov are to theirs. Rick has been a streaky goal-scorer over the course of his career and here’s to hoping that the two against Philly sets him off on a run.

Marc Staal did not play the third period against the Flyers after suffering a hip-flexor injury early in the game. Staal is not expected to miss significant action, and for a team that has struggled at times in their own end of the ice, that is good news. On a night-to-night basis Staal, the longest-tenured Blueshirt on the roster next to Henrik Lundqvist, has been the teams most consistent defender. There were many off-season questions about his future on Broadway but his smart, well-positioned play is living proof that you still have to be able to defend despite all the emphasis on goals.

Mika Zibanejad, Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei hope to build a win streak as they look towards their test with Buffalo at The Garden on Thursday.

Tonight’s game will be Buffalo’s first after their five-day break, and the Sabres sport an 11-29-4 record, putting them in the 30th spot in the 31-team league. There are enough parts to this lineup, including Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane to warrant a better record. Questionable team speed and inconsistent goaltending, the bane of existence for any struggling team, seem to be a couple of issues. That being said, this group should be better.

KEYS

1. Get There

The Blueshirts were tremendously effective defending against the Flyers with proper stick positioning. The key to an effective stick when defending is moving the feet and getting quickly to the opponent. To have a chance to make the right play with the stick, you have to get there to make the play.

2. Penalty Kill

The Rangers penalty kill has been perfect in the last four games, going 9-for-9 during that stretch. A quick rotating presence in the defensive zone, and collapsing to the middle when the opponent looks to shoot has forced recent power plays to the outside, limiting the quality of the shots against.

3. Eichel-Kane

Jack Eichel and Evander Kane drive the Sabres offense. When he is paying attention, Eichel is a world-class threat when passing and shooting the puck. When he is disciplined, Kane is among the top power forwards in the lead. Defending the former and irritating the latter will go a long way towards securing a couple of points.

[Watch Rangers-Sabres Tonight on MSG & MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.