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Sabres turn in strong defensive outing in win over Rangers

Vesey scores winning goal against former team

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

NEW YORK - Sandwiched between homestands of five and four games, the Buffalo Sabres took to the road for a meeting with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday. 

They will look to take their defensive game back home with them. 

The Sabres kept the high-scoring Rangers off the board for 57 minutes and fended off a late push to claim a 3-2 victory. Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, and Jimmy Vesey scored goals. Jack Eichel tallied two assists and Carter Hutton made 37 saves. 

"It was just an unbelievably strong defensive performance by the guys," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "They just really shut down the neutral zone. They're a team that creates a lot through the neutral zone and we were able to neutralize that and that was definitely the centerpiece of the victory today."

Video: Reinhart, Sabres hold off Rangers

Krueger spoke prior to the game about the importance of puck management against the Rangers, who entered the night averaging 3.29 goals per game. He pointed to the Sabres' last visit to MSG, a 6-2 loss in October, as an example how the Rangers turn mistakes into transition offense. 

More recently, the Sabres played a similarly high-octane offense when they hosted the Colorado Avalanche last Thursday, a 6-1 loss. They learned from both games and leaned on the details: short shifts, calculated risks, and careful play with the puck. 

For all the speed in a Rangers forward group that includes players like Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, only on rare occasions did they get behind the Buffalo defense. When they did, Hutton was on his game. 

"Compared to our last game in New York where we were a turnover machine - we really turned over a lot of pucks here early - we learned from that hard lesson," Krueger said. "They punished us last time and we were able to really take care of the puck well."

The patience paid off as the Sabres were able to strike when their own chances arose. Girgensons found a lane to the net off a shot fake by Colin Miller to open the scoring in the first. Reinhart caught a pass from Eichel at the end of a long shift and got a step on two defenders before burying a backhand in the second. 

Vesey, who spent his first three seasons with the Rangers, was on the receiving end of a stretch pass from Eichel in the third. He shielded the puck from Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux and slid a backhand shot between the pads of former teammate Alexandar Georgiev to make it 3-0. 

Video: BUF@NYR: Vesey backhands puck past Georgiev

The goal, scored with 8:04 remaining, looked like added cushion at the time. After Zibanejad and Chris Kreider both scored for New York in the last three minutes, it stood as the game-winner. Vesey now has three points (2+1) and eight shots in his last two games alongside Eichel and Reinhart. 

"We said it right off the hop that he now plays with Jack and Sam instead of trying to give up his game to feed them," Krueger said. "I think more than anything he's really skating right now and adding a lot of speed to that line and profiting from it offensively, which is nice. We just like the confidence that he's showing right now and he's definitely in the most consistent phase of the season for him."

The Sabres return to KeyBank Center against Anaheim on Sunday. They will be looking to right the ship for the home crowd after dropping four of five contests coming out of the All-Star break. Their road game in New York will be the blueprint. 

Video: POSTGAME: Krueger

"I just think we play a real simple game on the road and stick within a very small picture," Kruger said. "We're going shift by shift and you can see everybody's all-in. We're dealing even with some adversity like we did at the end of the game there really well. Everybody stays calm on the bench. 

"Yeah, we like our road game. Now let's take it home."


Girgensons hits double digits

Video: BUF@NYR: Girgensons' nifty opening goal

Something about MSG brings out the goal scorer in Zemgus Girgensons. His first-period marker was his fifth in eight games at The Garden since the start of the 2015-16 season. 

Girgensons laughed that off as a coincidence, though he adhered to the idea that he feels comfortable coming to New York. 

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "It's in the back of your mind that it feels easier to play when you know you play good in the building."

Girgensons now has 10 goals in 55 games this season. It's the first time he's reached double digits in the goal column since 2014-15, when he scored a career-high 15 times in 61 contests. 

"Z's been really a solid performer for us here," Krueger said. "He primarily has a defensive role, he's penalty killing for us all the time, but to get him into the double-digit category is a positive. We need to get some more guys there in the next few weeks."


Lazar's role

Curtis Lazar's propensity for winning key faceoffs hasn't gone unnoticed in the Sabres' dressing room. After being called upon to take the opening draw in the team's last two overtimes, Lazar took a defensive-zone faceoff after an icing with 9.2 seconds remaining on Friday. 

Lazar won the draw, allowing the Sabres to milk the rest of the time off the clock. Hutton brought up the moment unprompted during his postgame session with the media. 

"Lazar is doing a heck of a job in the faceoff dot for us," Hutton said. "He keeps doing that, he won't be going back to Rochester anytime. He's really solidifying himself in the faceoff dot and that's been huge for our team."


Dahlin returns

Rasmus Dahlin returned from a two-game absence caused by an upper-body injury. He finished the contest with two shots in 15:18 and reassumed his place at the point on the first power-play unit. 


Up next

The Sabres return home for four straight games at KeyBank Center, beginning with a matinee against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon. Coverage on MSG begins at 2:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 3. 

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