Sabres play host to struggling Rangers
Saturday, 12.05.2009 / 7:00 PMRANGERS (13-13-1) at SABRES (16-7-2)
New York 3-7-0; Buffalo 6-3-1
This is the first meeting of the season between the intrastate Eastern Conference rivals. Buffalo won three of the four games last season, the Rangers winning the finale on March 21, 5-3. Had Buffalo won that game and swept the series, the teams would have had identical records and the Sabres would have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of the Rangers. Buffalo leads the all-time series with a 67-53-26-3 record.
The Sabres have led the Northeast Division for much of the season, while playing fewer games than their rivals. They've won four-straight games and play their next four at home. After the struggling Rangers, the Sabres host the Devils, one point ahead of them in the East, and two division leaders, the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Sabres are hot and their last defeated rival, the Montreal Canadiens, explained why. Defenseman Josh Gorges said the Sabres skated with more speed and intensity from the start of the game and coach Jacques Martin said they got their goals on second and third chances. Buffalo is hustling and playing like a group of long-time friends who want to keep the team together. Injuries have compromised the Sabres in recent seasons but they've stayed healthy to date.
For several years, goalie Ryan Miller
has been the epitome of "Who you gonna believe, the stats or your own lying eyes?" That is, Miller has always looked like a better goalie than his stats would indicate. With a better team defensive focus, he's No. 1 stat-wise this season.
The Rangers are struggling. After starting 7-1-0, they've gone 6-12-1, garnering only 13 of 38 available points. The excellent play of Henrik Lundqvist
has masked some problems the past couple of seasons, but the Washington Capitals believed they found the way to beat him last spring and it looks like others are shooting at the same area this season.
The Rangers are hurting at center with Brandon Dubinsky
's injury and Chris Drury's recent concussion. Artem Anisimov
, a second-round pick in 2006, will center Marian Gaborik
and Vinny Prospal in Buffalo.
"Artie is the one guy who has improved with more ice time," coach John Tortorella said. "Now I want to see how he handles even more minutes."
Rangers left wing Sean Avery
has four points in the past five games. Drury has an assist in three of the four games since returning from a concussion. Prospal has five points in the past six games. Defenseman Marc Staal
has a point in his past three games.
Sabres right wing Mike Grier has four points in five games since returning from an upper-leg injury. More importantly, they are 4-1 since his return after going 2-3 without him. The first line of Jochen Hecht
, Derek Roy
and Jason Pominville
has 14 points in the past three games. Roy and Pominville have five points and Hecht has four. Thomas Vanek
also has five points in three games. Rookie defenseman Tyler Myers
has five assists in four games. Swingman Andrej Sekera
has four points in three games since a benching.
Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler sprained his ankle against the Canadiens. His status is uncertain. Defenseman Craig Rivet and center Paul Gaustad
suffered leg injuries in Philadelphia Nov. 27. Rivet returned against Montreal and Gaustad is still out with a knee injury. Goalie Patrick Lalime went to the AHL for a two-game conditioning assignment. Jhonas Enroth
will back up Miller.
Rangers defenseman Wade Redden
will miss his fourth-straight game with a shoulder injury. Center Brandon Dubinsky
will miss his 10th-straight game with a broken hand.
The Rangers and the New Jersey Devils are 11-0 when leading after two periods. The Sabres lead the Rangers in most team statistical categories. Buffalo has the second-best penalty kill, the Rangers are sixth. Buffalo is fifth-best in 5-on-5 play, the Rangers 23rd. However, New York is ninth on the power play and Buffalo is 19th. Buffalo is fourth in shots per game, the Rangers 23rd. Buffalo is the fourth-best defensive team, the Rangers are 25th. The Sabres are 12th-best at faceoffs, the Rangers 26th.
Before we anoint a forward as the rookie of the year, look at what Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto
and Buffalo's Myers are doing.
Among rookie defensemen, Del Zotto, the 20th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, leads with 17 points and is tied for first with 12 assists. He's also tops with three power-play goals and is one of three rookie defensemen with a game-winning goal. He's fourth with 18:45 minutes of average ice time.
Myers, the 12th overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is tied for lead at plus-6; is second with 21:55 minutes of ice time a night; is second with 14 points and third with 11 assists.