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Sabres vs. Rangers preview: NHL’s top offense comes to town

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The Sabres will have their hands full with the high-powered Rangers tonight.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Game #23

Buffalo Sabres (8-9-5) vs. New York Rangers (16-7-1)

Puck drop: 7:00 p.m. EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG, MSG-B | Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation’s Rangers Blog: Blueshirt Banter

One Question

Will the Sabres be able to control the highest scoring team in the league?

It’s no secret that the Rangers are the highest-scoring team in the NHL, and by a fairly wide margin. Their 88 goals this season is a whopping 14 ahead of the second place Flyers, and they’re scoring an average of 3.67 goals per game, while giving up just 2.42.

So instead of three questions today, here are three things the Sabres will need to do to control the high-flying Rangers offense.

1 - Get off to a fast start.

The Rangers weakest period in terms of offensive production is the first period - they’ve scored "only" 21 goals in the opening frame while giving up 18. Meanwhile, the Rangers lead the league with 37 goals in the second period.

By getting an early lead, the Sabres give themselves some cushion for the inevitable New York push back, which will certainly come seeing as how the Rangers have the best winning percentage in the NHL when their opponent scores first, going a sterling 7-3-0 when giving up the first goal.

2 - Have another strong special teams effort.

Buffalo’s power play exploded for three goals against Ottawa (thanks, Jack!) and now sits at #5 in the NHL, while their penalty kill drags itself in at #25 in the league. The Rangers come in with top-10 units on both the power play and penalty kill, #9 and #6, respectively.

The Rangers have been so proficient at scoring thanks to a ridiculous 12.8% shooting percentage, and considering that the Sabres are the lowest-scoring team at 5-on-5, it stands to reason that without another dominant special teams performance by the blue and gold, they won’t stand much of a chance tonight.

3 - Play the McCabe-Ristolainen pairing as often as possible.

Dan Bylsma has finally broken up Ristolainen and Gorges, and put Jack McCabe up on the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen. This gives the Sabres a top pairing with two fluid, puck-moving defensemen to help the Sabres contain the Rangers attack. The problem is that it creates a second pairing of Josh Gorges and Cody Franson, which the speedy Rangers should be able to take advantage of. The third pairing of Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun haven’t looked out of place in the NHL, but they also haven’t faced an offense as potent as this one yet.

If McCabe and Ristolainen are going to make their case to be the Sabres top pairing for the foreseeable future, tonight offers a great chance to show that they can handle the pressure, in every sense of the phrase.

Projected BUF Lines

48 William Carrier - 90 Ryan O’Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson - 27 Derek Grant - 28 Zemgus Girgensons

29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
Josh Gorges - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

Goal: 31 Anders Nilsson