This is the second game this season between the Rangers and Sabres. The Rangers won the first meeting 2-1. This is a huge game for both teams, but it might be more important for the Rangers. In the standings, Buffalo is in 7th place with 64 points, while the Rangers are in 9th place with 63. BUT, the Sabres have played 2 fewer games. This might be a must-win for the Rangers if they want to avoid a fire-sale at the trade deadline.
Here are four storylines I’ll be keeping an eye on… after the jump.
1. The Rangers’ new line combinations
It will be interesting to see if there is any chemistry with the new lines. See yesterday’s post for a detailed discussion. One quick note: some people have made comments along the lines of, “The Rangers are 6-3-1 in their last 10… why change the lines now?” My answer is that the Rangers offense has been flat all season, and they’ve scored just 7 goals in their last 4 games. The team has scored just 144 goals in 59 games this season, a 2.4 goals per game clip that is good (bad) for 28th in the NHL.
2. The $41.25 million dollar man.
This is obviously Henrik’s first game since signing his mega-contract. How will he react? Maybe he will go on an Ovechkin-esque hot streak. Ovechkin has scored 16 goals and had 10 assists in 15 games since signing his 13-year, $124 million dollar contract on January 10. If you convert that into goalie stats, I think that means Lundqvist should be on track for about 10 shutouts in the Rangers final 23 games.
3. Drury vs. Buffalo
In the first match on January 16, Drury didn’t do much except take an untimely holding penalty that gave the Sabres a 5-on-3 for almost 2 full minutes. Now that the Rangers are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, some clutch scoring from Drury would be quite welcome.
4. Buffalo offense vs. Rangers defense
Buffalo has one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. The Rangers have one of the top defenses. Something’s gotta give.
As a side note, it bothers me that the Rangers’ D-men don’t get any credit. This defensive group, which was for the most part written off as the Rangers biggest weakness during the preseason (thank you experts!), has been nothing short of stellar, allowing just 2.49 goals per game. And to those of you who think that the Rangers’ defensive success can be attributed to Lundqvist, the stats don’t lie. They’ve allowed a mere 25 SOG against per 60 minutes, ranked 3rd in the league.
Rangers 3, Sabres 1
Rangers 2, Sabres 1 (OT)