Game Preview: Buffalo Sabres @ New York Rangers

I figured I'd salute Patrick Lalime by using his photograph for our game preview today. It wasn't pretty at times but the back-up netminder gave his best Ryan Miller impression Friday evening by stopping 39 of 40 shots in a 2-1 win over his former squad, the Chicago Blackhawks. Lalime earned his first 'W' and Miller got a well deserved night off.

Tim Kennedy and Patrick Kane, who grew up in the same area of the city, each had an assist. As rewarding as claiming top spot in the Northeast Division is, the win was more about Lalime and the level of confidence he brought easing Lindy Ruff's choice to select him. Buffalo was truly shaky to start the first and third period giving him a workload which helped get him into gear.

It's back to work though as the Buffalo Sabres see the New York Rangers today. Henrik Lundqvist stole the show last week when he out-dueled Miller in a low-scoring, tight checking 2-1 result. With a few days worth of rest, the American should will be prepared to even the series for his team.

To our five thoughts on each squad:

  • First, Buffalo has scored a powerplay goal in each of the last two games after getting shutout by New Jersey to start the week. This brings them up to 17th best in the league and both tallies were because of a player standing at the front or side of the net. If they're to beat Lunqvist, more of the same is needed.
  • New York's found it hard to put a string of wins together. Losers in five of six, Marian Gaborik's been the one Ranger who continues to do his part in production leading the league in goals, 21, second to Joe Thornton in points and 25 per cent of their markers are courtesy of the Slovakian. It's too bad none of the others are lending a helping hand to their superstar aside from Lundqvist. 
  • If you read my preview for the Blackhawks contest, you'll notice that I kindly asked Thomas Vanek to end his scoring drought. I even said the word 'please' which I'm sure was what brought him on the score sheet. Vanek has had goals in back-to-back matches only once all year so I'll do my best to assist him again. Please get at least one by Lundqvist tonight Thomas.
  • Starting off the season with a 7-1 record, the Rangers were looking sharp. But they've gone 7-13-2 since largely because of offensive inefficiencies. Averaging 28.7 shots per game (23rd worst), New York needs more from everyone else especially Vaclav Prospal who was clicking very well with Gaborik.
  • The Sabres are 14-2-2 when they grab that first lead and 4-7 if the opposition does. As usual, getting on the board will calm the supporters as Buffalo's protection of leads is assuring. Why wouldn't it be? We've got Miller back there, undoubtedly the best goalie in the NHL this season.
  • With one point in ten games, Ales Kotalik is showing why he wasn't the most preferred forward for Lindy Ruff. A powerplay weapon, the Czech can't seem to make as much of an impact during even strength play. Whatever it is, he's not our problem anymore. Speaking of former Sabres, Chris Drury has nine points on the year.
  • Mike Grier (personal) likely won't join the team, Chris Butler has an ankle injury and of course Paul Gaustad is working his way back from a knee issue. For New York, Brandon Dubinsky remains out recovering from a broken hand. These teams have stayed rather healthy in an injury-riddled campaign and that includes Connolly and Gaborik. 
  • Rookie sensations Michael Del Zotto and Tyler Myers will lead their blue lines into battle. Separated by one point in rookie scoring, it's a story worth viewing as one has been compared to Brian Leetch and the other to Zdeno Chara. Myers had a helper in the first match-up.
  • Interesting statistic: Patrick Kaleta has thrown at least 39 more hits than all of his teammates. Maybe he'll give Kotalik and Drury a taste of the shoulder (not elbow). We can only hope.
  • The Rangers own a hitting machine as well. Ryan Callahan has 109 to his credit which is 37 more than the closest teammate behind him. He's third among the entire league, trailing Stephane Robidas by four and Dustin Brown by three. Well respected for his work-ethic, Callahan will be all over the ice. 

Elite goaltending, rookie stand-outs, hard hitters and two healthy stars; there's much to look forward to in this meeting of two clubs heading in different directions. And Madison Square Garden will ensure a terrific atmosphere for everyone involved.

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