Prior to last night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, the New York Rangers had not lost back-to-back games since the middle of December. Now, as they enter tonight's contest against the Buffalo Sabres back at Madison Square Garden, they are on the verge of dropping their third straight game, and four out of their last five. This is not a position John Tortorella's squad is accustomed to being in and he acknowledged that in his postgame comments on Friday. The Rangers are not playing the smooth-sailing hockey they were just several weeks ago, and with slightly over a month remaining before the start of the playoffs, this is certainly not the time they want to slack off.
It all comes down to the technicalities of the game with these Rangers, and lately sloppiness, specifically early on in games, has cost them. Missed defensive coverage followed by soft goaltending had the Blueshirts down 2-0 in the first half of the opening period last night against the Islanders. I still cannot put a finger on what it is that causes the Rangers to repeatedly have bad starts each night, but it's getting out of control without a doubt. Even when the wins were coming game after game, still this team struggled to establish their play in the first ten minutes or so. It's baffling at this point.
And the starts are just the beginning of the team's problems. The defense has not been as sharp, the offense has not been as effective on the forecheck and that damned powerplay -- it actually produced two goals against the Isles, but prior to that it was becoming more of a problem than it was a help. These are just a few of the things the first place Rangers will be looking to clean up when they get back at it against the Sabres this evening.
If things don't show signs of fixing themselves tonight at MSG, there's a good chance we see GM Glen Sather go out and acquire some help via trade before the 3 p.m. deadline on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres are coming off a huge shootout win over the Boston Bruins last night and are currently sitting in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference - five points out of a playoff spot. The Sabres have a legitimate chance of pushing for the last seed in the East, so much like the Islanders last night, expect them to come out playing desperate hockey. This time, though, the Rangers need to be ready for it from the start.
Derek Roy will be the player to watch on Buffalo, as he's led the charge in the team's resurgence as of late. He's recorded 7 points in his last five games.
The Rangers are expected to go with the same lineup as they did on Long Island, but Henrik Lundqvist will be returning between the pipes after getting the night off on Friday. Would it have made more sense to start Biron against the non-rival Sabres tonight and Lundqvist against the Isles? Maybe, but here's a few things to consider for those of your who are still complaining about that; Biron was taunted in his last start at MSG, he has an outstanding career record against the Isles and Lundqvist needs rest with a busy month coming up in March. Just sayin’.
Also, I'm getting fed up with Brad Richards and his lackadaisical play. Something needs to change there because he's only hurting the team with this poorly decisive hockey lately. He makes all of these comments in the media about how the team needs to be better... well, he needs to start with himself. I may lose it if I continuously watch him turn the puck over again tonight, but don’t worry, he won’t be penalized because he is one of ‘Tortorella’s guys’.
New York Rangers Lineup
* If you missed it from earlier, the Rangers traded Wojtek Wolski to the Florida Panthers. Details here.