Coming off two extremely frustrating losses in Pittsburgh, the Rangers continue their road trip in Buffalo before returning home next weekend to try and exact revenge on the Penguins. This week’s NY Rangers preview dives into the Sabres and touches on those Penguins.
The Rangers are trending in the right direction, but they’ve been snakebitten by some poor shooting luck and, most recently, some spotty goaltending. Both things should correct themselves over time, though nights like Sunday sure do make you miss the days when Henrik Lundqvist was in his prime.
Still, other than the season opener, the Rangers have been the better team on the ice in every game. They’re controlling the shot share and scoring chance battle. It’s not outlandish to assert that they should have picked up 5 or even the full 6 points in their three games last week. In a 56-game season, leaving points on the table can jeopardize a team’s playoff chances, even this early in the season. Still, it’s not time to panic. Let’s see if results begin following good process this week.
Games 6 and 7 @ Buffalo Sabres (2-3-1) – Tuesday January 26 and Thursday January 28
The Sabres have been basement-dwellers in the Eastern Conference for most of the last decade. This despite being blessed with Jack Eichel and a spate of high draft picks in recent years. The lack of a solid supporting cast around their superstar led to the surprise signing of Taylor Hall this off-season. This was a move that some have speculated is a last-ditch effort to keep Eichel in Buffalo.
So far, the Sabres have gotten mixed results even though they, like the Rangers, have strong underlying numbers. Small sample size alert here, but Buffalo currently sports the second-best xG% in the NHL (57.67). Eichel leads the way individually with 7 points, all assists. The Hall signing has paid early dividends, as he’s shown great chemistry with Eichel and posted 1-5-6 so far. Awaiting the Rangers in goal is the average-at-best tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
Prediction: It would be a mistake to take the Sabres lightly. But the Rangers may do just that coming off two emotional, playoff-type games in Pittsburgh. Buffalo, feeling good off of their shootout win over the Caps, will beat the Rangers on Tuesday, setting off another mild panic among the fanbase. But the Blueshirts will bounce back with a win on Thursday night to ease the tension.
Game 8 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2-0) – Saturday January 30
With this season’s division-only schedule, we’ll be getting to know the Rangers’ opponents really well. Having just seen the Penguins twice, there’s no need for any in-depth analysis. The Rangers played them tough, and arguably should have won both games. The difference was puck luck, and the Penguins’ top players outplaying the Rangers’. This is a storyline that bears watching, as Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are off to notably poor starts. This is clearly hurting the Rangers, especially at even strength.
Prediction: The Rangers will turn the tables on Pittsburgh and start this season’s first winning streak with a strong effort on Saturday. Mika Zibanejad will have a breakout performance, as he finally starts to look like the player who scored 41 goals in 57 games last season.
As always, leave your thoughts and predictions on the NY Rangers weekly preview in the comments!
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.