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Rangers battling injuries as they take on Eichel and the Sabres

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs sabres 3-14

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Following a tough loss at home to the Islanders, the Rangers (38-22-6) will look to try and add points to their second place lead when they battle the Buffalo Sabres (27-31-9) at the First Niagara Center without their full lineup intact.

After the defeat at the hands of the Islanders, the Rangers lead in the Metropolitan fell to just three points. If they want to rebound with a win tonight, they’ll need to play a much more complete game than they did on Sunday. The Rangers didn’t show up for the first 10 minutes of the game and gave up three quick goals, and their late game comeback wasn’t enough.

The Rangers have lost two out of their last three games after winning five of six games, and the Islanders and the Penguins are now creeping up in the standings. On top of that, they’ll be playing tonight’s game without four of their key players. Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash are getting closer to returning but remain out, plus Dylan McIlrath and Marc Staal did not make the trip to Buffalo. The Rangers recalled Brady Skjei from Hartford on an emergency basis.

This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Rangers this season, and the first game up in Buffalo. Last year, the trips to Buffalo were well remembered for Mackenzie Skapski’s first two starts and wins in the NHL. This year, the Rangers beat the Sabres 6-3 at the Garden on January 25. Derick Brassard had a huge night, tallying five points (2-3-5), and 11 Rangers recorded at least a point. Zemgus Girgensons gave Vigneault and his team a scare by scoring twice in 1:13, but JT Miller’s goal just one minute later gave the Rangers a lead.

The Sabres will be playing their second game in as many nights, coming off of a 4-3 shootout victory in Toronto. Evander Kane and Jack Eichel both scored goals and Chad Johnson turned aside 30 of the 33 shots he faced. Buffalo has already surpassed last year’s win total by four wins.

Eichel’s goal last night gave him 20 in his first NHL season, and he is second in both goals and points (45) among all NHL rookies. Eichel has scored in each of the last three games, with four points (3-1-4) in that span. With Ryan O’Reilly out of the lineup, Eichel will play a big role and likely center the top line.

Evander Kane has also had a resurgent season following his trade out of Winnipeg and an injury last year. Kane is second on the team in scoring with 19 goals this season, and he’s collected four points (2-2-4) in the last three games. Kane is a big, physical player with a knack for goal scoring, and he averages four shots on goal per game.

Another Sabres rookie that hasn’t gotten as much attention as Jack Eichel is Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick from the 2014 NHL draft. Reinhart is in his first full season, and he’s third on the team in goal scoring, finding the back of the net 18 times. He’s also been playing well as of late, tallying four points, all assists, in the last four games. Reinhart plays with Eichel and Kane, and that trio should be a focal point for the Rangers’ defensive plans.

Robin Lehner is expected to be in net for the Sabres tonight after getting the night off in Toronto. Lehner was injured for a long time to start the year, but since he’s been back in net, he’s looked like the goaltender that Buffalo planned on building their team around. Despite a record of 5-7-4, Lehner owns a 2.30 GAA and a .931 save percentage. In his last five games, he’s allowed two goals or less four times, and one goal in one of those performances.

For the Rangers, Antti Raanta will be back in net while Henrik Lundqvist recovers from his neck injury. Raanta gets a chance to rebound after allowing five goals against the Islanders and will be looking for his eighth win of the season. Prior to the loss, Raanta had won three straight and allowed five goals on 98 shots against.

Eric Staal had the best game of his short Rangers career against the Islanders, scoring a goal and an assist, skating for over 19 minutes and winning 91% of his faceoffs. His line with Oscar Lindberg (1 G) and Viktor Stalberg was the only consistent line throughout the night, and Staal was the main reason for it. He’s looked a lot more comfortable in the last two games and was even promoted to the top line at the end of the game. Look for him to have another strong game.

On defense, Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh have both been playing extremely well lately. Yandle has been the most consistent defenseman all season long, leading defenseman in points (37) and leading all Rangers players in assists (32) and power play assists (12). He’s tallied a point in 14 of the last 21 games (3-11-14), including nine of the last 13 games (1-8-9).

On the other hand, McDonagh has not only been playing well defensively, but he’s also started to pick up his offensive game as well. He’s the only NHL defenseman who has recorded at least 30 points and has a +17 rating, and he’s reached the 30 point mark for the third straight season. McDonagh has a point in four of the last five games (1-4-5) and has 14 points (3-11-14) in the last 20 games.

Brady Skjei will be inserted into tonight’s lineup in place of Dylan McIlrath, who injured his leg against the Islanders. Vigneault knows he can trust Skjei after he skated a team-high 22:17 and played very well against the Devils in his last game.

The Rangers and the Sabres will faceoff at the First Niagara Center at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG+.

EXPECTED LINES (Not Confirmed)

JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Kevin Hayes

Oscar Lindberg-Eric Staal-Viktor Stalberg

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein

Brady Skjei-Dan Boyle

Antti Raanta

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Posted on March 8, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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