Friday was an off-day for the Rangers, a day to rest up after stepping off the red eye that brought them home from a nine-day road trip through Chicago and California. Saturday they were on the ice, so it was a day to shake off any lingering fatigue and wind back up. Right?
"They had more energy than I anticipated. Not sure how I feel, though," David Quinn said with a laugh after Saturday's practice. "We wanted to keep it short, we wanted to have pace to it, fight through a little bit of the grogginess, the tiredness. But I really liked their energy."
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The Rangers were a loose team on Saturday morning, and much of that energy surely is attributable to how the Rangers finished their longest road trip of the season, with two wins over three days in San Jose and Anaheim. The Rangers got better as the trip went along, and in Thursday's finale, they received crucial contributions from their rookie class: Brett Howden had a goal and an assist, Filip Chytil started the power-play sequence that led to the Rangers' first goal, and Alexandar Georgiev made 28 saves in the game before going 2-for-2 to win his first career shootout.
"For us it's about the group as well, and I was just really happy with the way we played in the last two games. There was certainly a different feel, there was a little bit more of an identity, the way we want to play," said Quinn, who will reinsert Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup when the Rangers face the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. "But to see those (rookies) get rewarded statistically and play with a bit more confidence is always good. Those guys continue to grow, they're big parts of our future and present. It's good to see those guys get rewarded."
Video: Brett Howden on return from road trip
"We're having some fun. It's a good mood in the room right now," Howden said. "We're all confident in our game right now. We just want to make sure that we're carrying that on, that we're still improving on what we need to do better, but we're carrying on the stuff we're doing well."
Howden finished the road trip with four points in the four games. The 20-year-old center now has eight points (3-5-8) through his first 13 NHL games, tied for second in points among NHL rookies. He also went 10-7 on draws and leads all NHL rookies with 85 faceoff wins.
His goal on Sunday was the end result of a superb play: the flashy part was the quick one-touch pass Jimmy Vesey made to set up Howden with an open net, but both the coach and the rookie pointed to everything that came before.
Quinn called it "a great goal, not only the way it ended but what led to it. They really got on top of Anaheim, Anaheim tried to get out of the zone three times and they just kept staying on top of them, making them uncomfortable. Howden finishes a check and that really keeps the play alive in the offensive zone." Speaking of the line of Vesey, Howden and Jesper Fast, Quinn added: "They were threatening throughout the last two games. I think they're feeding off each other's energy. That line's got a little bit of everything on it."
Video: Quinn speaks after Rangers practice at home
"That was all Veese," Howden said of the goal. "Staalsie (Marc Staal) made a good play getting it to the net, and Veese just laid it in there for me to tap into an empty net. Credit to those guys making the play pretty easy for me."
Howden picked up his first NHL goal back on Oct. 6 against the team that visits the Garden on Sunday night, and the Sabres should come into town feeling pretty good about themselves, too, following a 9-2 home-ice rout of the Senators on Saturday afternoon that snapped a three-game skid. Buffalo's top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville combined for four goals and five assists in the game.
It took Carter Hutton's best outing of the season for the Sabres to win the season's first meeting with the Rangers, by a 3-1 score in that Oct. 6 game at KeyBank Center, both teams' second game of 2018-19. The Rangers, in one of their better performances of the season, poured 44 shots on goal, but Hutton stopped all but Howden's third-period rebound. With Linus Ullmark taking the start on Saturday against Ottawa, expect Hutton to go at the Garden on Sunday.
Sunday's game begins a stretch in which the Rangers play eight of their next 12 games on Garden ice, where they have won three of their last five. Their last home game was 12 days ago, a 5-2 win over Florida.
"It's nice to be back in our building," Howden said. "It was a little bit of a tiring road trip, but it's good to be home."
NEWS & NOTES
Buchnevich will go back into the lineup after having been a healthy scratch for the last two games, in San Jose and Anaheim. Asked how he thought Buchnevich was taking the decision to scratch him, Quinn said: "I hope he's pissed. I think he is. I want everybody to be pissed when they don't play. Go do something about it.
Both Boo Nieves (concussion protocol) and Freddy Claesson (upper body) joined the team for practice yesterday, Claesson in a red no-contact jersey, and Nieves for the first time in a regular jersey. "Good news on Boo, he got cleared, so good to see him practice and full go," Quinn said of Nieves, who has been on injured reserve since the start of the season. Claesson has missed six games. "Both are making strides," Quinn said. … Marc Staal and Ryan Spooner took a maintenance day off from practice.
90 Namestnikov - 93 Zibanejad - 36 Zuccarello
20 Kreider - 13 Hayes - 89 Buchnevich
26 Vesey - 21 Howden - 17 Fast
8 McLeod/72 Chytil/95 Lettieri/23 Spooner
18 Staal - 44 Pionk
76 Skjei - 77 DeAngelo
42 Smith - 22 Shattenkirk
Hutton is 4-0 in his career against the Rangers, with a 1.35 goals-against average and .960 save percentage.
Jack Eichel assisted on three of Buffalo's nine goals Saturday to give him 13 helpers this season, but of his 57 shots only four have found the net (7.0%).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mika Zibanejad had eight of the Rangers' 44 shots on goal in the teams' Oct. 6 meeting, on 12 total attempts. Zibanejad has 14 points in 20 career games against the Sabres.
Since they became linemates on Oct. 20, Skinner (8-5-13), Pominville (7-6-13) and Eichel (1-11-12) are the top three scorers in the NHL.
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