Rangers, Sabres Both Looking To End Slides

The Rangers and Sabres meet for the third and final time of the 2017-18 season tonight at The Garden.

No trip to the Nickel City this year for the Blueshirts as Buffalo was the host team for the outdoor Winter Classic, despite the game being played at Citi Field. The Rangers won that one, 3-2, when J.T. Miller scored in overtime. Seventeen days later, the teams met indoors at Madison Square Garden and the Blueshirts would prevail in that one, 4-3. The Rangers will be looking for the season sweep this evening.

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The top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast remained hot in the loss to the Flyers on Thursday. Fast led the way in this one with a goal and two assists, which was a single-game best for him. The trio has combined for a total of 20 points over the last four games. The line has scored 11 of the team’s 13 goals over that same span which is certainly good for the line, but the Rangers would like to see a little more from the rest of the lineup. The numbers do validate their play, as they have arguably been the best line on either team in the past four games.

For the second consecutive game, Alain Vigneault will take a look at Ryan Spooner at center and Vlad Namestnikov on the wing, reversing the positions they were playing when they were first acquired at the trade deadline.

After scoring 13 points in his first eight games in a Ranger uniform, Spooner has gone pointless in his last four, but he did have three shots on goal against the Flyers. He continues to be a threat despite not showing up on the scoresheet of late. Namestnikov has just one goal in his last 10 games and is coming off the game in Philly where his ice time was cut in the third period. The young forward may be running out of gas and does have to play with a bit of a bite to be effective.

Take a look at Vladislav Namestnikov's first day at the Rangers training facility as he adjusts to his new team and practice regiments. Watch the full "The AV Squad" Saturday at 10 PM on MSG & MSG GO.

Both teams are playing out the string with regards to the regular season. While this has been a somewhat new phenomenon for the Rangers, it has been the same old-same old for the Sabres. The season was basically doomed by the start of December when Buffalo won just six times in the first 26 games. This will mark the seventh consecutive season without postseason play. The Sabres have lost three consecutive and have scored just one goal in those three games. Head coach Phil Housley has called out his top players for not buying into what he has been preaching and it sure sounds like there are a lot of issues beyond just X’s and O’s in Buffalo.

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3 KEYS

1. Start

Buffalo has lost three consecutive and have scored just once in those losses. Tonight is the second of back-to-back games after they were beaten 3-0 by Montreal at home. The coach is not happy. The players are not happy. Jumping on them early won’t make for any happier times in Sabreland.

2. Protect Georgiev

Alexandar Georgiev has given up eight goals in his last two starts, both losses. He has continued to make timely saves yet hasn’t had the support needed when rebounds are available. The team in front must do a better job boxing out bodies and clearing pucks to better protect their young goaltender.

[Read: “Alex The Great” Looking to Conquer Broadway]

3. Work Buffalo D

Like the Rangers, Buffalo is experiencing some growing pains with a youthful blueline. By not giving that youth room to move the puck quickly, there will be helter-skelter play in the Sabres end of the ice. That will create chances.

[Watch Rangers-Sabres Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

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.