The home team will be looking to deliver a bevy of treats to it's faithful fans tonight at Madison Square Garden as the Rangers (4-7-0, 8 pts) host the Buffalo Sabres (2-11-1, 5 pts) in a Halloween night matchup. Coming off an impressive and exciting 3-2 victory on Long Island Tuesday the Rangers will be out to win two games in a row for the first time this season, while also looking to secure their first win on home ice. The Rangers lost their only MSG contest to date, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener on Monday evening.
The Rangers have now won two of their past three games after a stretch that saw the team lose five of six. The way they won those two contests--last Saturday in Detroit and Tuesday on Long Island---seems to show that the Rangers are slowly but surely breaking out of their early season struggles as a team. The collective effort in both games was unquestioned, passionate, and spoke well to the character inside the Rangers dressing room. In both games the Rangers, despite playing some of their best hockey of the season, allowed a late, seemingly-backbreaking, goal in the second period to fall into a 2-1 hole on the road, only to rally for 3-2 victories with thrilling comebacks.
On Tuesday the heroes were Ryan McDonagh---who scored the game-tying goal early in the third period, Benoit Pouliot---who netted the game-winner later on in the third, and Carl Hagelin---who set up Pouliot's goal and energized the entire lineup in his first game since coming off LTIR. There was also a truly inspired performance from Chris Kreider---who scored his first goal of the season, a stout collective effort in shutting down the Isles top line featuring John Tavares and Thomas Vanek, and another calm effective performance in goal by rookie Cam Talbot.
In what will need to be more the norm than a rarity, the Rangers won the special teams battle Tuesday night, scoring twice on four power plays, while posting a perfect 3-for-3 night on the penalty kill against the NHL's second-ranked power play. It marked the second time this season that the Rangers scored two power play goals in a game, and they now have scored three power play goals in the last three games. It was the fifth time this season that the PK unit put up a perfect night.
With Hagelin's return Tuesday Alain Vigneault shook up his forward line combinations and seemed to have a bit better balance on them. He likely will look to keep the lines intact Thursday against the Sabres, though the fourth line may have to do without veteran center Dominic Moore, who suffered an upper body injury late in the first period against the Islanders and did not return to action. The Rangers did not practice on Wednesday, so Moore's status for Thursday night is up in the air. Brandon Mashinter was the lone forward who did not play Tuesday night.
It is expected that Henrik Lundqvist will be back between the pipes for the Rangers against Buffalo. After sitting out a week with an undisclosed injury, Lundqvist stopped 25 of 27 shots in the 2-0 loss to Montreal on Monday before backing up Talbot the next night. Looking to get into a groove, it is likley Lundqvist will play all four games on this homestand through next Wednesday as long as he continues to be healthy.
The Rangers will certainly want to jump on the Sabres Thursday, put them back on their heels as quickly and as much as possible. The Sabres have the fewest wins and points in the NHL, and have lost five of their last six games. Like the Rangers, Buffalo has struggled offensively, scoring only 23 goals through 14 games---while the Rangers have scored 18 in 11 games. The Sabres, however, have scored eight goals in their last three games---which includes a 3-1 win last Friday over the Florida Panthers. Interestingly, Buffalo has yet to win on home ice this season (0-7-1), with both of their wins coming on the road where they are 2-4-0.
Buffalo traded its top offenisve threat, Thomas Vanek, to the Islanders last Sunday, though they did acquire a three-time 30-goal scorer in Matt Moulson along with a first round draft pick and a second rounder. Moulson scored twice in his Sabres debut, a 4-3 los to the Dallas Stars on Monday. Behind Moulson is Cody Hodgson, who has four goals and ten points, and then not much from an offensive standpoint. Hodgson has scored two of Buffalo's five power play goals on the season. The Sabres have the 26th ranked power play in the NHL, converting at just 11.1 percent. Their penalty kill, at 83 percent, is much better, ranking tenth overall in the NHL.
In goal Jhonas Enroth, the backup, has gotten off to a better start, than veteran No. 1 Ryan Miller, who has lost nine of his first ten starts this season and owns a 3.13 goals against average. Enroth enters play 1-2-1 in four starts with a 2.24 goals against average and solid .932 save percentage. Enroth made 44 saves in Buffalo's 3-1 win over Florida last week.
The Sabres are a physical team, even without former Ranger John Scott---who faces an NHL disciplinary hearing in New York on Thursday---in the lineup. Led by Steve Ott, Marcus Foligno, and Cody McCormick, the Sabres take the body consistently and are no joy to play against from a physical point of view.
Following Thursday's game, the Rangers will host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday before skating in Columbus against the Blue Jackets next Thursday.