Game 25: Vesey faces Sabres, Clendening in for Klein


Jack Eichel makes his home debut for the Sabres tonight when the Rangers visit Buffalo. It’ll also be an interesting return for Jimmy Vesey who spurned the Sabres to sign with the Rangers last summer. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Buffalo Sabres.

Fresh off a nice come from behind 3-2 home win over the Hurricanes, the Rangers take their act on the road when they visit the Sabres in Buffalo tonight. It should be intriguing with Jimmy Vesey making his first appearance in Western New York since Sabres general manager Tim Murray gambled by trading away a third round pick (Rem Pitlick) on June 20 for his negotiating rights.

At the time, the move made sense for Buffalo with Murray having a slew of draft picks. He parted with one to try to get Vesey under contract as a Sabre. However, the Hobey Baker Award winner decided to go to unrestricted free agency and let teams bid on him. The Sabres were still in the mix but ultimately fell short with the Rangers winning out.

Ultimately, it was Vesey’s decision. The 23-year old forward has been a good player for the first place Rangers, who look to make it two straight in what’ll be their first meeting against the Sabres. Buffalo just got Jack Eichel back. He didn’t disappoint in his first game scoring and setting up goals in a 5-4 win over the Senators. In a fun story line, you’ll have the last two Hobey winners facing each other. Eichel won it for Boston University scoring 71 points as a freshman. Vesey won it with 46 points as a senior at Harvard University.

Thus far, Vesey has eight goals and six assists in 24 contests for the Rangers. It was his power play goal which was the game-winner the other night. A play set up by Rick Nash, who had his best game of the season scoring the tying goal on a beauty of a backhand top shelf by Cam Ward and assisting on Vesey’s winning tally with 5:12 left in regulation.

Alain Vigneault continues to shuffle the deck minus Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Oscar Lindberg got back in the lineup with Josh Jooris out. He only received 12 shifts logging a team low 8:07 winning three of five face-offs. Even though he didn’t play a lot, Vigneault praised him for playing a strong physical game.

There will be one change of note. As has been noted in this blog, Kevin Klein has struggled this season. He was beaten on one Carolina goal following a turnover. Vigneault has finally decided to sit Klein and give Adam Clendening another look. It’ll be his first game since Oct. 22. Sure. He got into another as a extra defenseman. But didn’t take one shift.

This will be different with Clendening counted on as one of the top six. Does Vigneault try him with Brady Skjei? It would seem like a natural fit. A good skating right D with a superb skating left D who has flourished. Skjei has 12 assists and has fit in well on the power play. He was basically stuck with Klein the last couple of games. It didn’t go well.

With Nick Holden continuing to fit in with Marc Staal, I don’t see a reason for a change. Holden scored his third goal to start the comeback on Tuesday. After struggling to establish himself early on, the former Av has really figured it out. Gotta give Jeff Gorton credit for making a good trade. Holden ranks second in defense scoring on the team with 12 points (3-9-12) and is plus-11. Dan Girardi also has three goals and is plus-13.

Henrik Lundqvist gets the start. He made 26 saves on Tuesday for the win. Anders Nilsson will oppose him for the Sabres. He replaced starter Robin Lehner, who again is hurt. Nilsson finished with 26 saves in relief of Lehner to get the victory at Ottawa. He’s been pretty solid as the backup entering play with three wins, a 2.20 GAA and .939 save percentage.

If their win over Ottawa is any indication, the Sabres should get a continued jolt from Eichel. It allows Ryan O’Reilly to center the second line. In the win, Buffalo was lethal on the power play going 3-for-5 with goals coming from Eichel, O’Reilly and leading scorer Kyle Okposo. Sam Reinhart also scored his fifth. Rasmus Ristolainen tallied two assists giving him 11 for the season. He must be accounted for from the back end.

The Sabres’ speed should be a good test. The Rangers like to play fast. So, it could be a fast paced game with momentum swings. The team that’s more disciplined should come out on top.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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