Coming off an extremely impressive 4-1 win in Washington on Sunday afternoon the Rangers (13-9-2, 28 pts) continue their four-game road trip in Buffalo Tuesday night when they skate against the Sabres (9-14-3, 21 pts) at the First Niagara Center. After a slow start on the road this season---losses in three of their first four road contests---the Rangers evened their road record at 4-4-1 with Sunday's victory, and have now won two straight away from Madison Square Garden.
The win in Washington saw the Rangers receive major contributions from up and down the roster. While the usual suspects stood out---Rick Nash extended his points streak to ten games by notching a pair of assists, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan scored goals, Ryan McDonagh was a beast on the blueline and also contributed two assists---the Rangers also saw Brian Boyle score his first goal of the season and Martin Biron starred with 28 saves while making just his first start in the last seven games. Brad Richards also continued to come alive, netting his second goal in as many games since returning from injury.
It was a real good bounce back win for the Blueshirts, who dropped a 3-2 home-ice decision to the Senators Friday night. And that, as much as anything, characterized the extremely successful Rangers team of a year ago---that when it lost a game, or felt it had not had a strong effort, the club would bounce back with a solid outing next time out. Sunday's victory was very similar to many that were had in 2011-12 for exactly that reason.
The Rangers have put together two very good road games in succession, as their 2-1 overtime win on Long Island last Thursday was as well-played as Sunday's in the nation's capital. That is important since the Rangers will play in Winnipeg and Pittsburgh after Tuesday's match in Buffalo, and still face seven of their next ten games away from The Garden. But the Blueshirts have thrived on the road in the past under John Tortorella, winning 20, 24, and 24 road games the previous three seasons.
Perhaps adding to the Rangers favor is the fact that the Sabres have struggled on home ice, so far, this season, posting just a 4-6-1 record at First Niagara Center. That record through 11 home games has played a large part in the Sabres finding themselves tied for 13th place in the Eastern Conference with just 21 points, and with just nine wins overall. Having allowed 83 goals through 26 games, and having a -16 goal differential has not helped the Sabres either.
Buffalo enters play winless in their last four games (0-2-2), a stretch which began with their 3-2 shootout defeat at The Garden nine days ago. It also followed a season-high three-game winning streak under new head coach Ron Rolston. Four of Buffalo's last six games have been decided by the shootout, and the Sabres have split those four games (2-0-2).
That Rangers-Sabres game on March 3rd is best remembered for Patrick Kaleta's vicious hit from behind which sent Richards careening into the boards face-first. Kaleta---who ultimately received a five-game suspension from the NHL for the hit---was given a five-minute major and a game miscounduct, and the Rangers capitalized by scoring twice on the power play, though they also surrendered a game-tying shorthanded goal by Nathan Gerbe. Kaleta is still serving his suspension and will not play tonight, though it will be interesting to see if the Rangers seek any form of physical payback even with Kaleta not playing. The Sabres do employ massive former Blueshirt John Scott as a deterrant, though he did not play in that first meeting nine days ago.
Buffalo's penalty killing unit has struggled quite a bit as of late, and is ranked 23rd overall in the NHL. The revived Rangers power play---with at least one power play goal in five of its last six games---will be looking to take advantage. The Sabres have allowed six power play goals in their last four games (in 16 times shorthanded), and over their last 12 games the Sabres have given up 12 power play goals.
The Rangers won both games played up in Buffalo last season---4-1 behind a pair of Carl Hagelin goals on December 10, 2011, and 1-0 in a shootout on February 1, 2012.
Will the Rangers continue their strong play, both on the road and in Buffalo, on Tuesday? Share your predictions below.