In a classic example of two teams heading in opposite directions, the red-hot Rangers handed the moribund Buffalo Sabres a thoroughly convincing 6-1 defeat at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. The Rangers have won ten of their last eleven matches and are now 21-11-4 on the season while Buffalo has one victory in its last nine games (1-7-1) and owns of the third-worst record in the NHL at 14-23-3.
Six different Rangers scored goals Saturday, and 13 players found their way on to the score sheet as New York established a season high in goals scored. The Rangers, who beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 Wednesday night, have scored 11 goals in their past two games; and over their past eleven contests New York has outscored the opposition 40-17.
"We played a real good game in Florida so we wanted to play a real good game tonight," stated head coach Alain Vigneault after Saturday's victory. "Our guys knew what they had to do, and some nights are like these. We got early power plays and we were able to make them pay for it, and then after that we did what we had to do in order to win the game."
The Rangers left little doubt early on which way this game was going to go, scoring four times in the first period, including on three straight power plays over a span of just 2 minutes 32 seconds; and Henrik Lundqvist was exceptionally sharp from the outset as the Rangers stunned the Sabres from all possible angles.
"I think we knew in our heads that this was a must two points," explained center Derick Brassard who scored a goal and added an assist. "We didn't address it before the game, but everyone knew it was a must two points before leaving for California."
The barrage of four goals in 3 minutes 52 seconds began at the 8:46 mark of the first period when Brassard redirected a hard Marty St. Louis pass past Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth for his tenth goal of the season, and team-high tying fourth on the power play.
As the Rangers were celebrating Brassard's goal, the referees were assessing Buffalo a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. A little more than a minute later the Rangers cashed in on that power play as soft saucer pass from J.T. Miller sprung Chris Kreider in behind the defense, and Kreider made a slick deke before depositing a backhand shot into the net at 9:53. The goal was Kreider's seventh of the season, second in as many games, and fourth on the power play.
On the play Kreider was hooked from behind by Buffalo's Cody McCormick, so New York went right back to the power play as Sabres coach Ted Nolan stood slack jawed with hands on hips behind the Buffalo bench. Rick Nash lit the lamp shortly thereafter, his team-leading 24th goal coming at 11:18, and the Rangers led 3-0.
"It was a little different," Kreider said about the three straight power plays, including a pair right after the Rangers had just scored. "We weren't really expecting the second one, but it was different for sure. Like any game you want to continue to play your game, try and improve and play better. There are certain instances in a game like this where you smell blood and can play a little more offense, but at the same time we have to remember our foundation is built on playing defense and getting chances from playing good defense."
Nash deflected a St. Louis pass into the cage, and the power play goal was his fourth of the season, tying him for the team lead with Kreider, Brassard, and St. Louis. The Rangers now have recorded power play goals in five consecutive games, going 8-for-18 on the man advantage in that span. They also have scored on the power play in seven of their last eight contests, going 10-for-26.
Dan Boyle, who had also assisted on Brassard's goal, scored an even strength goal at 12:34 to push New York's lead to 4-0, prompting Nolan to remove Neuvirth from the game and replace him in goal with Jhonas Enroth. Neuvirth faced only nine shots and allowed those first four goals.
Boyle beat Neuvirth from the left circle, sneaking a shot just inside the near post for his third goal of the season. He now has five points (1-4-5) in his last five games.
"I have been feeling better," said Boyle, who was sporting the Broadway Hat post game. "I think the Christmas break really helped me get over the hump health wise. I feel rested. I feel energetic. I am going to be looked at to bring some offense and some numbers, but I am more concerned with winning hockey games and letting the forwards do their jobs. Tonight I was just lucky to jump in a few times and get some looks."
Both Boyle and Marc Staal played on Saturday after missing practice the day before for personal reasons. Staal was attending his grandfather's funeral on Friday, while Boyle was away for an unspecified reason.
The Blueshirts upped their lead to 5-0 just 2:26 into the second period when Carl Hagelin netted his eighth goal, assisted by Matt Hunwick and Kevin Klein. Twenty-two seconds later Buffalo got on the board on a Drew Stafford wraparound.
New York, though, continued to dominate play, and at the 15-minute mark they took a 6-1 lead after video review showed that a Jesper Fast shot that appeared to be stopped by Enroth's extended left pad, actually had crossed the goal line before the Buffalo netminder had kicked it out. The goal was Fast's third of the season, and first in 11 games. Kevin Hayes picked up the lone assist on the score.
"It's a game we obviously had to win," noted Staal. "They were on a back to back, and we couldn't have written it any better to start that way. And it's good momentum going into a tough road trip."
The Rangers will not see The Garden for another ten days, when they next host the Islanders, as they will set off for a difficult three-game trek to California first. The Blueshirts will skate in Anaheim against the Ducks on Wednesday, then play a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, before closing the trip in San Jose where the face off with the Sharks next Saturday night.