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Rangers begin the new year against the Sabres at MSG; Nash and Buchnevich back to practicing

Bobby Bevilacqua

JT Miller protecting the puck 12-1.jpg

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a successful two game road trip, the Rangers (26-12-1) head back to Madison Square Garden to take on the Buffalo Sabres (13-15-8), the first of two games over the next two days before heading to Philadelphia tomorrow.

The Rangers took care of business last week, beating the Arizona Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche, two games they were supposed to win. The game against Arizona was a lot closer than it should have been, but they beat the Avalanche handily in their next game, scoring six goals. Now with games against the Sabres and the struggling Flyers over the next two days, the Rangers have a chance to secure some points before the league mandated bye-week.

The Sabres dealt with some injuries to start the year, but it’s been a pretty disappointing start considering some of the signings they made this offseason. Buffalo enters the game tonight with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and are just 1-4-2 in their last seven games.

This is the second of three meetings between the Rangers and Sabres this season, and the only one that’ll take place in Manhattan. Buffalo won the first game back on Dec. 1, losing 4-3 despite points from eight different Rangers. Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal all scored in the game.

In net for the Sabres will likely be Robin Lehner, who is in his first full season as the Sabres starter. Last season he dealt with a lot of injuries that kept him sidelined for a while, but he’s been in net for 26 of the 37 games this year. So far, he’s 8-12-5 with a 2.51 GAA and a .921 save percentage, but he’s been under siege in a lot of the games lately. He won on Dec. 27, stopping 40 of the 43 shots he faced, but lost his next game, facing 37 shots in that effort. It could be very similar tonight, so Lehner will have to be at his best.

Jack Eichel missed the beginning of the season with a severe ankle sprain, but he’s been pretty great since returning to the team. In 15 games, he’s tallied 12 points (7-5-12) already and has given the Sabres more stability in their lineup. With Ryan O’Reilly sidelined following an appendectomy, Eichel will assume a lot of the defensive responsibilities for today. We’ll see how he handles that role, and also if he continues to keep up the scoring.

On Eichel’s wing is Kyle Okposo, in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres after signing a seven year deal in the offseason. He’s the highest scoring forward on the team, with a team high 10 goals and 23 points, which trails defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen by just two points. Okposo has been a threat on the power play and he’s a power forward capable of scoring in many ways.

The Rangers will counter with Henrik Lundqvist in net. With his win over the Avalanche, Lundqvist became the winningest European goalie in NHL history after making 25 saves with a .926 save percentage to secure his 390th career win, passing Dominik Hasek in the process. Lundqvist has a chance to build on that now against a Sabres team he has had success against. He’s 5-0-0 in his last six appearances against the Sabres at home, including one shutout. For the season, he’s 16-8-1 with a 2.45 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

At practice yesterday, Rick Nash skated with the team in a regular jersey while Pavel Buchnevich participated in a non-contact jersey. However, Nash skated with Clendening as a defenseman and will not be ready for tonight, but could be available by the weekend. The Rangers also called up forward Nicklas Jensen, who has been great in Hartford but hasn’t shown much with the Rangers. He might start tonight.

Chris Kreider recorded his second career hat trick in the win over the Avalanche, giving him 15 goals this season and 29 points in 33 games. He’s been fantastic lately, scoring 10 goals in December and currently riding a four game point streak with eight points (6-2-8). He led the Rangers in goals for the 2016 calendar year (30) and is the only NHL player who has recorded 50 goals, 100 points, a plus-40 rating and 150 penalty minutes since the start of the 2014-15 season. Needless to say, he’s been an extremely important part of the team, and his line with Stepan and Zuccarello has been amazing for a few weeks.

JT Miller scored two goals against the Avalanche, giving him three in the last two games and showing signs of breaking out of his slump. Miller now has 12 goals and 26 points in 39 games, and is yet another offensive threat for this team. In 10 career games against the Sabres, Miller has three goals and six points, with a goal in three of the last four games.

The Rangers and the Sabres will faceoff at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Network.

POTENTIAL LINES

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-JT Miller

Michael Grabner-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast

Nicklas Jensen-Marek Hrivik-Brandon Pirri

Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Klein

Marc Staal-Nick Holden

Brady Skjei-Dan Girardi

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on January 3, 2017, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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