Coming off four straight losses by one goal, the New York Rangers beat the Buffalo Sabres to get back on track. In their seventh game of the year, the Rangers went with yet another different lineup. Alexis Lafreniére took Chris Kreider’s spot on the first line, while Kreider slipped down onto the third line. Colin Blackwell moved up to the second line to play with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. The fourth line consisted of Brendan Lemieux, Kevin Rooney, and Phil Di Giuseppe. The defensive pairs stayed the same, with the exception of Brendan Smith slotting in for Jack Johnson. Igor Shesterkin made his fourth start of the year and looked for his first win. The Rangers played an incredible game, beating the Sabres to break their losing streak.
The Top Six Finally Contributes:
Finally, the team got some contributions from their top-six forwards, who got them on the board first thanks to a nice passing play. Pavel Buchnevich sent a pass to Panarin down by the goal line. Panarin sent a perfect pass to the front of the net for Ryan Strome to clean up and get the Rangers on the board. Later in the game, with a 1-1 tie, Panarin led a rush into the offensive zone. Panarin sent a pass to Strome who forced the puck to the net. The puck deflected around until Panarin put it in, Rangers led the Sabres 2-1. This has been the best showing by the top six thus far. Panarin looked much sharper, making quick, smart passes. Strome looked much better than he did early in the season. Mika Zibanejad was second on the team in Expected Goals For (xGF) at 5v5.
Lafreniére had so many chances and was finally able to cash in, scoring the game winning goal in overtime. The 19-year-old winger was robbed around five or six times earlier in the game by Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark. The former first overall pick had around two or three chances in the third period alone that got robbed. It was really important for both Lafreniére and the Rangers to win this game. Lafreniére’s goal should be able to net him some much-needed confidence, and the win over the Sabres allows the Rangers to stay afloat in the standings. It’s also important not to forget Blackwell, who really stepped up today. Many did not see Blackwell making the lineup very often this season, but he has really played his way in with his forechecking ability. Blackwell had the game winning assist on the Lafreniére game winning goal.
The Defense Played Well Too…
The Rangers got a huge performance out of their top six, but something that may have been even bigger was how well they played on the back end. Especially the performance by Igor Shesterkin, who was huge in the Rangers prevailing over the Sabres. Shesterkin made 23 saves on 25 shots again, but the two goals were not his fault. Both were due to defensive breakdowns and passes to wide open Sabres on the backdoor. But outside of those two lapses, the defense played extremely well. Tony DeAngelo played a very solid game, being third on the team in xGF. K’Andre Miller shined again, outside of the Jack Eichel goal. Miller led the entire Rangers team in xGF.
The Rangers beating the Sabres was massive as they head back home on Saturday. The Rangers improved their record to 2-4-1 and while it may not look pretty, consider that four of those five losses were by one goal, including a shootout loss. New York remains last in the NHL’s Eastern Division, but it’s still pretty early in the season. They will face the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at 7 pm, where a win would be huge for the team’s confidence.