The Buffalo Sabres got out to an early lead, but the New York Rangers eventually caught up and then used their speed to blow by them.
Matt Moulson scored 14 seconds into Friday night’s game on Buffalo’s second shot to record the 150th goal and 300th point of his career.
However, it wasn’t enough as Carl Hagelin responded at the 5:51 mark of the first to tie the game. Then Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello added second-period markers to give the Rangers a 3-1 win at First Niagara Center.
Mackenzie Skapski made 24 saves to record his first NHL victory. Michal Neuvirth made his third start in four nights for the Sabres, stopping 40 shots.
“They’re a team with a lot of speed, pretty good on the transition. If you look at the goals they had, they take advantage of that,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “Unfortunately for the better part of those first two periods, we weren’t ready so we’ve got to be better. We started to generate something in the third, but it was just too late once you’re down.”
Buffalo got things going right away when they generated their goal off a faceoff. Torrey Mitchell lost the draw to Derick Brassard but the Sabres won the puck back and Gionta was able to get the puck back to Mitchell from the corner. Mitchell then threw it in front of the net where Moulson was there to put it in.
It marked the fastest Sabres goal to open a game since Tyler Ennis scored 10 seconds from the opening faceoff on Nov. 19, 2013 against St. Louis.
The lead would not last, though as as all three Rangers goals were the results of fast breaks into the Buffalo zone starting with Hagelin’s tally. Hagelin was sprung for a breakaway when a Rangers pass out of their own end was tipped by Gionta at the blue line. Hagelin tucked home a backhand to make it 1-1.
“You go out, you score in the first shift, you hope to build off of that,” Gionta said. “After that, we kind of got flat and we weren’t sharp with our passes. It showed.”
Nash’s goal 37 seconds into the second was the result of an odd-man rush up the ice for New York. Brassard sent Nash a cross-ice pass down left wing where he was able to one-time it in for his 37th goal of the season. Nash only trails Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin for the League lead in goals by one.
Zuccarello was the beneficiary of a strong play by Nash. Nash broke in on the Sabres defense and cut in hard toward the front of the net. He ended up on the goal line to Neuvirth’s right and put the puck in front of the net. Crashing in, Zauccarello tapped it in 8:05 into the second to make it 3-1.
Buffalo had only 12 total shots through the first periods, but came alive in the third to put 13 on Skapski.
“Getting 12 shots in the first two periods on a young kid isn’t good enough,” Gionta said. “We’ve got to challenge him. We’ve got to make him work for it. We started to do a little of it in the third but it was just too late.”
The Sabres are already missing alternate captain Josh Gorges, who could be out for the rest of the year with a lower-body injury. Then Mike Weber left Friday’s game after the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return.
“He took a pretty good hit so he’s getting evaluated now as Josh Gorges is,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “So it looks like we could lose a couple there for sure.”
To help fill in some of the holes on the back end, Nicolas Deslauriers moved from forward to defense. He had been a defenseman all of his professional career until last season when the Kings organization made him a wing.
He had filled in here and there on defense this season, but two periods on the blue line was more time he’d seen there in a long while.
“It was weird a little bit,” Deslauriers said. “My second shift, I got caught in the D-zone for maybe two minutes. But when somebody goes down, I’m always ready to help the boys there.
He ended up taking nine shifts on defense in the second and third periods.
“…[I was] not totally comfortable, but they’re a great team. They have a lot of speed,” he said. “Adjusting was a little hard and in the third, we were trailing, so we needed our good D-men to jump in the rush so I played less minutes. But I felt better than my first shift in the second though.”
SEEING A LOT OF RUBBER
Neuvirth has faced a lot of shots in his last four games. He’s stopped 138 of the last 146 shots he’s faced (.945 save percentage).
The coaching staff has put him out there to give him an opportunity to grab the reigns and be the team’s No. 1 goaltender moving forward.
“No one asked me. Coaches told me to play and I prepared myself the best I could,” he said. “I’m happy with the way I played the last three games. It’s a great opportunity to get a start and show I can play.”
RECOGNIZING A GREAT LOCAL COACH
Before the game, the Sabres honored Matt English, the 2015 recipient of the J. Michael Duffett Memorial Award, which is presented each year to the coach or administrator whose contributions to amateur hockey in Western New York “best exemplify the knowledge, teaching, love of the game and gentle humanity of Mike.”
English has been heavily involved in various hockey programs throughout Western New York over the last 32 years, including 28 years as a coach in the West Seneca Hockey Association. He has also served as a coach for the Buffalo Regals, the Depew Saints, West Seneca High School and SUNY Buffalo State. English’s teams have routinely reached the New York State Championships and the USA Hockey Nationals.
J. Michael Duffett was a student of the game and a coach with the Buffalo Bisons and the Amherst Hockey Association. A standout player at Nichols School and Clarkson University, Duffett was working in the Sabres hockey department under Scotty Bowman and Roger Neilson at the time of his death after a battle with cancer. In 1984, the Buffalo Sabres established the J. Michael Duffett Award in his memory.
The Sabres next play Sunday when they host the League-leading Nashville Predators at 6 p.m. The Tops Game Night pregame show begins at 5 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.