The Buffalo Sabres are the worst team in the NHL this season, and tonight they played one of the best in the New York Rangers. If you didn't watch the game, the outcome was predictable, but instead of simply recapping the usual details that we've come to know and hate, I decided to try something different tonight.
Having watched so much bad hockey this season, I wanted to focus on some good hockey, and watch what the Rangers were doing tonight, and exactly how they were doing it better than the Sabres.
Turns out, as most of you probably expected, the Rangers do just about everything better than the Sabres. Obvious things like shot totals and faceoff wins were heavily in New York's favor, but so were many little things, like goalie puck control and body positioning along the boards. That's not to say the Rangers played a perfect game - far from it - but even though they had their mistakes it was easy to see why they're so much better than the Sabres.
The one thing that stood out to me the most tonight was the Rangers far superior accuracy, decision making, and strategy in zone exits and entries. More often than not, the Rangers would grab the puck in their own end, make two quick passes and would already be heading up the neutral zone, and another pinpoint pass to a streaking forward would quickly have them ready to attack Buffalo's net. The Sabres, on the other hand, love to exit the zone with either one player slowly carrying the puck out or a desperate cross-ice pass that seemed to rarely work. We use stats like SAT/Corsi to measure possession, but this was another prime example of puck control that directly resulted in either shots or turnovers.
The thing that kept Buffalo in the game was, surprise, surprise, the goaltender. Anders Lindback stymied the Rangers, though he got help from his good friend Post three times in the first two periods. New York had a few glorious chances turned aside by either pad or iron, but the Sabres couldn't hold them off forever, as Keith Yandle opened the scoring midway through the third period when his shot from the point snuck past a blind Lindback.
Yandle's goal would turn out to be the winner, as New York would add an empty netter from Martin St. Louis to seal the deal 2-0. When two teams play a relatively even game, the winning team is usually the one that does the little things right.
I hope the Sabres were taking notes for next year.
1. Can the top line turn in another red-hot performance?
Nope, the top line of Ennis, Moulson, and Larsson did combine for six of Buffalo's 20 shots, but no goals. Ennis was the best player on the ice for the Sabres, and had a nice breakaway chance foiled by Skapski in the first.
2. Can the Sabres take advantage of a rusty backup in Mackenzie Skapski?
Speaking of Skapski, he seems to have the Sabres number, earning the shutout tonight with 20 saves and stretching his goalless streak versus the Sabres (the only team he's played so far) to 119:46.
Comment of the Game
I don't know why, just loved this one so much.