RANGERS vs. SABRES, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
David Quinn was happy with how his Rangers were playing as Wednesday night's game was going along, but in retrospect, he was really happy with it.
"I really liked a lot about our game -- I felt good about it after, and I felt even better after watching it," the Head Coach said on Friday morning, looking back on his team's win over Toronto on Wednesday. "It certainly was a step in the right direction against a very talented team."
At the midpoint of their four-game Madison Square Garden homestand, the Rangers can make it back-to-back wins on Friday night when the Buffalo Sabres make their last of two visits to Broadway in 2019-20. When the Sabres made their first visit here, back on Oct. 24, the team from upstate brought in the NHL's best record at 8-1-1. The Rangers cooled them right off with a 6-2 victory that, once again in retrospect, seemed to turn Buffalo trending south: Since the 8-1-1 start, the Sabres are 15-22-7.
"Doesn't matter -- they've still got a ton of talent," Chris Kreider said emphatically after the Rangers' morning skate on Friday. "We've got to be ready for them, because they're as opportunistic as anyone. We've got to play exactly as we did the last game, to go north-south and not jumpstart their offense."
That's how the Rangers got it done against one of the NHL's most explosive teams in the Maple Leafs, the League's highest-scoring team since mid-November. Leading by a pair after 40 minutes, the Rangers played lock-down hockey, allowing only four shots through to Igor Shesterkin in the first 15-plus minutes of the final frame.
"We played with our speed, and in that third period we played really strong," said Brady Skjei, who on Friday will play his 299th game as a Ranger. "Being a team that's learning and maturing, knowing how to hang onto a lead like that is definitely a good sign."
After Shesterkin won for the fourth time in his five NHL starts, Quinn on Friday night will hand the nets -- as planned -- to Alexandar Georgiev, who will take his first start since Jan. 21, and his first in more than month, since Jan. 4, against any team other than the Islanders.
Georgiev -- who turns 24 years old on Monday -- will take his third career start against the Sabres, having stopped 74 of 77 shots in the first two (.961 save percentage).
"He has a history where he can play well while not playing a lot of games in a period of time," Quinn said. "He's a good goalie, he's had a very good year, and we want to get him in there."
The Rangers, 7-1 in their last eight games against the Sabres, will be aiming for their eighth win in their last 11 home games overall, and during that stretch they had scored a power-play goal in each of the last six of those wins until Wednesday night, when they poured in five at even strength against the Leafs. The major damage was done by Mika Zibanejad's line, with each of its three members -- Zibanejad, Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich -- scoring a goal. It was the 15th time this season the Rangers have scored five or more goals in a game.
"We've got plenty of skill on this team," said Kreider, highly impactful in his return from a one-game upper-body-injury absence, "but we've got to start by working hard off the puck, creating chances where we're not trying to beat them when they're in their structure. We're going to get our looks, but there's got to be an element of patience to our game. We've got to force turnovers, work to create our chances and then let our skill come out, and not just rely solely on our skill.
"One of the things that we feel is that we can score goals, we can do some things that teams can't do," said Quinn. "The things that we can continue to improve on, everybody can do. We've just got to keep getting better in these certain areas, and it will put us in a better position to win hockey games."
The Sabres have found it hard to win hockey games lately, which they've done just once in their last six (1-4-1), on the heels of Thursday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Red Wings on home ice that broke Detroit's nine-game skid. The Sabres at least were able to salvage a point in a game they trailed 2-0 after two periods, then 3-2 in the final minute before a goal by Evan Rodrigues -- like leading scorer Jack Eichel, a former Quinn charge at Boston University -- tied it with 47 seconds to play.
Ex-Ranger Jimmy Vesey -- playing with Eichel and Sam Reinhart -- started the comeback in the third, scoring his seventh goal as a Sabre, while Jonas Johansson made 18 saves, which means the Sabres are likely to turn on Friday to Carter Hutton, whose track record at Madison Square Garden was a good one until he was burned for six goals on 24 Ranger shots back on Oct. 24.
Hutton was 6-0 when he walked into the Garden that night; he is 1-9-4 in 14 starts (15 games) since. The Sabres are expected to get Rasmus Dahlin back in their lineup after he'd missed the last two games, and to dress seven defensemen with 11 forwards.
"They were they're on fire to start the year and things have cooled off a little bit, but we've seen them enough, we know we know their game, we know their top players can beat you," Skjei said. "So we've got to have our mindset right going into this game and really build off that Toronto game."
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
48 Lemieux -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
21 Howden -- 14 McKegg -- 33 Di Giuseppe
76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
13 Vesey -- 9 Eichel -- 23 Reinhart
43 Sheary -- 90 Johansson -- 67 Frolik
53 Skinner -- 27 Lazar -- 71 Rodrigues
28 Girgensons -- 22 Larsson
26 Dahlin -- 62 Montour
24 Pilut -- 55 Ristolainen
19 McCabe -- 10 Jokiharju
The Rangers are 7-1 in their last eight games against Buffalo, and 16-4 in their last 20, dating to the 2012-13 season.
On Wednesday against Toronto, the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich unit combined for seven points, a plus-9, and 17 shots on goal.
Buchnevich has goals in four of the last five games; Kreider has goals in seven of the last 10; and Zibanejad has scored in four of the last seven.
The six seconds between goals by Zibanejad and Kreider were two seconds shy of the franchise record, set by Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash in 2014.
The Rangers have won four straight games against Atlantic Division opponents.
Ryan Lindgren played a career-high 22:10 against the Leafs, on a plus-2 night with three blocked shots. He and partner Adam Fox (22:43) were the Rangers' leaders in ice time.
Buffalo has been outscored 20-10 during its 1-4-1 stretch.
Jack Eichel is third in the League with 23 even-strength goals; Artemi Panarin is tied for fifth with 21.
Eichel at home: 28 games, 23 goals, 42 points, plus-20
Eichel on the road: 23 games, 8 goals, 24 points, minus-7
In the first game of Buffalo's back-to-back, Eichel played a season-high 25:50 on Thursday night vs. Detroit; Sam Reinhart logged a career-high 25:25.
The Rangers have seven different players with 10 or more goals; Buffalo has four, tied with Detroit for fewest in the League.
Since a 6-0/1.65/.943 start to the season, Carter Hutton is 1-9-4/4.03/.869.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jesper Fast has points in three straight games vs. Buffalo, and 3-8--11 in 16 career matchups. Fast has eight points and a plus-4 in his last 11 games overall.
Sam Reinhart has seven goals and 13 points in his last 13 games; his next point will be No. 250 of his NHL career. The 24-year-old has played in 223 consecutive games for the Sabres.