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Rangers need rebound win in matchup against Buffalo; Lunqvist and AV infuriated

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs sabres 3-14

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Let’s face it, the Rangers (26-16-5) stunk last night.

After two very strong and promising performances by the team against Vancouver and the Hurricanes, Vigneault’s squad came out almost entirely flat, barely pressuring Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson and showing a lack of effort. It’s not often that you can criticize the Rangers’ effort, but it wasn’t there last night.

That led Henrik Lundqvist to question his team’s preparation in his postgame interview when questioned about the topic.

“You have to ask the guys, I take care of my own preparation,” Lundqvist told Andrew Gross of The Record. “I think it’s a mind-set. You definitely have to have a good warm-up. For me, personally, I felt good. You have to try harder. We had a good [off-ice] workout [on Saturday] so it’s more in your head to get going.”

Alain Vigneault was also highly critical of his team’s performance, saying that Henrik and Jesper Fast were the only ones prepared, finishing with a telling quote. “We played a real strong game in Carolina on the road. I thought we were getting somewhere and then we come up with this.”

Vigneault cut off further questions, saying, “So thanks, I’m out of here,” before storming out of the interview.

It’s good that Vigneault is pissed off. But as much he wants to stomp his feet and show some anger that the fans loved from Tortorella, the mess that this team has become has his name all over it. It’s his lineups, they’re his coaching decisions, and it’s his system that isn’t working.

Last night, they didn’t start skating until the second period. Ottawa had 30 shot attempts in the first 20 minutes and the defense was committing turnover after turnover and giving the Senators Grade-A scoring chances right out of the gate.

The forwards were lazy, and the forecheck was nonexistent. They either didn’t want to get to the blue line and dump the puck in, and when they did, they didn’t want to get to the dirty areas and retrieve the puck. They allow late and early goals in the period that cripple the team and kill momentum.

Then with the lineups and coaching decisions, Dan Boyle had a horrible game, remains pointless in his last 10, and Dylan McIlrath is still sitting in the press box. Keith Yandle played less than 19 minutes in a game where the Rangers were searching for offense all night long. The fourth line got consistent minutes in the third period when the team was trailing 2-0, and they generated absolutely no offense. Lots of headscratchers on AV’s part.

That sets the scene for tonight’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres (19-25-4), the first meeting between these two teams this season. This isn’t the same pushover, AHL caliber Sabres from last season. Now coached by Dan Bylsma and following a good draft and offseason, Buffalo hasn’t seen a big improvement in the standings, but they are much more competitive.

The Sabres did just get Robin Lehner back, but it will be Chad Johnson in net against the Rangers. The veteran netminder has done a solid job in place of Lehner while he was injured, posting a 2.36 GAA and a .920 save percentage this season. He’ll be looking for his 13th win of the season.

This will be the first time that the Rangers get a look at second overall pick Jack Eichel, The Boston University product sits fourth in rookie scoring while Blackhawks’ rookie Artemi Panarin runs away with the lead in the Calder Trophy race. But Eichel has been very good for Bylsma. He’s second on the team in goals (14) and sits in third with 30 points. He’s got five power play goals and a great wrist shot, so he’ll pose a threat to the Rangers in all areas of the ice.

I was a bit surprised when the Sabres made such a big offer to Ryan O’Reilly, but he’s had a fantastic 2015-16 campaign. In 48 games, O’Reilly has scored 17 goals and has added 23 assists, giving him 40 points for the season. He’s been an excellent mentor to the younger players on the team, and an offensive threat.

Rasmus Ristolainen is developing into one of the stronger two-way defensemen in the entire league. Ristolainen, 21, has already set a new career high in assists (23) and points (31), and is one goal away from a new career high in goals. He has four goals and 10 assists on the power play.

Vigneault did not state whether Henrik Lundqvist of Antti Raanta would start in net tonight. Lundqvist was fantastic yesterday, recording 30 saves and allowing just two goals. Antti Raanta hasn’t won since November and allowed four goals on 23 shots against the Washington Capitals on January 17th.

There really isn’t much to talk about in terms of forwards that played well, because none really did. Jesper Fast played a solid all-around game, and JT Miller was also very energetic, finishing his checks and doing what he could to bring some energy to his lifeless teammates. Miller also led the team with a +5 shot differential, and continues to grow and blossom.

The top six needs to be much, much better. Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider all need to step up and start playing like top six forwards. Especially the two centers, because Stepan and Brassard have done a whole lot of nothing lately.

The fourth line was also atrocious last night. Daniel Paille was a -14 in shot differential, the worst on the team, and the team generated five shots while he was on the ice while giving up 19. Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore weren’t really any better, both finishing a -12 in shot differential. The fourth line hasn’t done anything right lately and in order to roll four lines, that unit needs to be better.

Rick Nash’s absence was noticeable last night. While he hasn’t been the high volume goal scorer he was last year, he still has over 30 points, and he’s one of the few forwards who is always willing to get to the dirty areas and the front of the net. He’s their most consistent forward, and his current shooting percentage of 8.1% (career of 12.3%) is bound to rise.

Hopefully, Nash comes back in today after sitting yesterday’s game out. But hopefully AV doesn’t scratch a young forward like Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes or someone like Viktor Stalberg, and sits Glass or Paille instead.

The Rangers and the Sabres will faceoff at Madison Square Garden at 7:30. The game will be broadcasted on NBCSN.

POTENTIAL LINEUP (Speculative)

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-JT Miller

Oscar Lindberg-Kevin Hayes-Viktor Stalberg

Daniel Paille-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle-Dylan McIlrath

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on January 25, 2016, in Game Previews, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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