New York Rangers: The top key down the stretch will be scoring goals
Dec 1, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; New York Rangers left wing J.T. Miller (10) against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Sabres beat the Rangers 4 to 3. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Needing to avoid a season sweep, the New York Rangers will go digging in the snows of Buffalo for some dignity in a bounce back effort against the Sabres on Thursday night.

  • New York Rangers (31-18-1, 63 pts)
  • Buffalo Sabres (20-20-9, 49 pts)
  • Thursday, Feb 2nd, 7:30PM ET, MSG, (FULL PREVIEW)
  • KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York

Following Tuesday night’s shelling at MSG, the Rangers travel to KeyBank Center tonight looking to get back in the win column against the Buffalo Sabres. It is a team that the Rangers absolutely should beat and they have a pride incentive to do so:

The Rangers have not been swept in a season series against the Sabres in a decade (0-4-0 in 2006-07). They have lost two straight against their northern neighbors this season and will get swept if they lose this third and final meeting.

Buffalo has just finished their best month of the season, but has lost two straight. At the very fringe of playoff contention, they’re 18 points out of first in the fluid Atlantic Division and despite some firepower, look like they simply lack the tools to compete in the playoffs. Kyle Okposo, of all people, is the team’s leading scorer at 15G.

The playoffs are a hazy goal on the Buffalo horizon right now. They aren’t out but are far from being in. A team in that position is going to look for a pride game to spark a run. Beating the Rangers and sweeping them in a season series has that kind of value to Dan Bylsma’s young squad.

The Rangers are in the thick of a playoff race with three of the NHL’s top-performing teams. They are 5-5-0 in their last ten games and have lost their last two. They are a team that scores, but winning games consistently has been an elusive objective since the holiday break. Led by Michael Grabner’s 22G, the Rangers feature a distributed array of scoring threats across all lines. That should play to their advantage against Buffalo’s goalie, Robin Lehner (12-13-5, 2.64GAA, .918SV%)

Some keys in this game:

Special Teams Mismatch: The Sabres have the NHL’s 5th best power play (22.7%) while the Rangers’ penalty kill has dropped to 14th (82.2%). The Rangers are 3rd in the league in PIM. The Rangers have got to stay out of the box against a premier PP unit. The Rangers have not scored in 15 straight PP attempts and rank 14th in the league (Buffalo’s PK is ranked 29th *DING DING*)

Quick Goals: The Rangers are notorious this season for giving up first goals, early period goals, goals on low shot totals and quick goals –  in bunches. On January 7the Rangers lost 4-1 to the Sabres. Two of those goals (Kane; Bailey) came within 1:42 and a third (Eichel) came at just 1:10 into the third period…on a power play. Buffalo knows the formula well.

Goaltending: No surprise here. Henrik Lundqvist (21-13-1, 2.78GAA, .905SV%) needs regular playing time to get into a rhythm and save his season. Lehner is not a strong goalie, but he’s facing a weakened giant and has already beaten him twice. Lundqvist needs to find his legs, reflexes and focus again. Look for a strong comeback game out of him.

Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey: Alain Vigneault needs to leave these two on the same line. Vesey ended a ten-game pointless streak as soon as he was paired with Nash again on Tuesday. There is chemistry there. AV needs to leave it alone.

Chris Kreider: Kreider (19G/16A/35pts) potted his 19th goal of the season the other night, helping to fuel the Rangers’ comeback effort against Columbus. He is on pace to break his 2013-14 career high in goals (21). Kreider typically plays a hotter second half and has been a lot more visible and physical of late. Look for him to be a difference maker tonight.

Good teams beat beatable teams. The Sabres are a very beatable team. Hopefully, someone reminds the Rangers of that.

NYR Healthy scratches: Brandon Pirri; Adam Clendening

Puck drops at 7:30PM ET and can be seen on MSG.

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