A picture is worth a thousand words. Can the Rangers freeze frame the goal above that Pavel Buchnevich set up Jimmy Vesey on highlighting a well deserved 6-2 win over the Sabres? That was a thing of beauty. I didn’t see it until afterwards due to skipping the first two periods in part to annoyance with Filip Chytil scratched and my allergy cold.
In any event, it was nice to see some different players come through in a victory. This team has been carried so much by the top line that they may as well have had an anchor attached to their backs. For once, they didn’t rely on the scorching Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider or sizzling Mats Zuccarello.
This one was won due to the role of the supporting cast. On a night Chytil sat out for Hartford recall Connor Brickley, the other three lines got on the score sheet in support of improving rookie Alexandar Georgiev, who made 31 saves to win his third consecutive decision. From the MSG broadcast at the happy conclusion that included plenty of ribbing of Vladislav Namestnikov for getting off the schneid, Sam Rosen noted that Georgiev has stopped 141 of the last 148 shots over his last four starts.
The final score is a little misleading. The Rangers entered the third period nursing a 3-2 lead. A desperate Sabres put on a surge in the first part of the period. Georgiev came up with a couple of gems, denying Rasmus Dahlin and Tage Thompson to keep his team ahead. In his last two starts, he’s made 86 saves on 89 shots. This was a strong follow up to a career high 55 stops in a 4-1 home win over Toronto last Sunday. Listening to him speak in the postgame, he’s very intelligent and good at analyzing the game for his young age. When top goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin comes over, there will be no rush.
With Quinn again opting for the unusual 11 forward, seven defensemen alignment, that left Brickley and Boo Nieves on a make shift fourth line. As fate would have it, Nieves deposited a Brendan Smith rebound for his third at 4:09. Brickley was in front distracting Buffalo starter Linus Ullmark when Nieves scored the game’s first goal from that “forward” Smith.
Jesper Fast had gone 13 straight games without a goal since Jan. 10. He finally broke the drought when he got credit for his eighth from Namestnikov and Tony DeAngelo for a two-goal lead at 14:03. The checking line of Fast, Namestnikov and Ryan Strome had a very good night. They combined for three goals and two assists with a plus-eight rating. Quinn raved about the cohesive trio afterwards.
Quinn expressed a little frustration that his team didn’t get rewarded in the second when the Sabres got back in it thanks to a pair of goals from top sniper Jeff Skinner (35th and 36th), sandwiched around a goal of the year candidate. That would be the unbelievable strength shown by Buchnevich behind the Buffalo net when he was able to make a great one handed pass in front for a cutting Vesey, who buried his 13th while falling down to the ice. That was a terrific play by both, who have stayed on the second line with Kevin Hayes (2 assists). Quinn liked how they finished the game, but reminded everyone that they must be more consistent defensively.
A Skinner power play goal from Sam Reinhardt and Dahlin cut the lead to one at 16:56 of the second. As bad as the Sabres are defensively, where would they be without Skinner? The former Hurricane is on pace for 50 goals in his contract year. Having acquired him last off-season, it’s imperative that they re-sign him. He will not come cheap.
At one point in the third, the shots favored the Sabres, 9-4. However, they couldn’t find the equalizer against a sharp Georgiev. His biggest save came following a scary giveaway from Kevin Shattenkirk. The right defenseman lost the puck in front right to Thompson, who fired from about 20 feet out right into Georgiev, who didn’t budge. Asked by MSG’s John Giannone about it after the game, he said he had it all the way. He was in perfect position to bail out Shattenkirk, who otherwise had a good night finishing with an assist and plus-four rating with DeAngelo.
With an injury ending Brady Skjei’s night in the second, Quinn had to rearrange the pairs. Smith moved back to defense while DeAngelo and Shattenkirk played well. Marc Staal worked with both Shattenkirk and Adam McQuaid. It all worked out.
On a superb extended shift in the Buffalo end, the Hayes line did a number on the Sabres. They cycled the puck for seemingly ever until Shattenkirk got the puck over to a open Hayes, who fooled everyone in the building with a brilliant slap pass for a open Buchnevich tip in with 4:01 remaining. His 11th goal gave him a two point night and goals in two straight. That gave the Rangers a key insurance marker.
Eight seconds later, Namestnikov got a belated Valentine’s Day gift from Ullmark on a giveaway for a empty netter that gave him his first goal since Dec. 18. A very thankful Namestnikov looked to the heavens as if to say thank you as he got plenty of taps from happy teammates, who appreciate how hard he works. It had been 23 straight games without one since he got his last in a win over Anaheim. Poetically, that was also a three-point game.
He would add his second also into a vacated net with Ullmark on the Sabres bench with 58 seconds left for the final margin.
Notes: When asked about Skjei’s availability for Sunday, he said he was “day to day.” They don’t think it’s serious. My guess is they’ll hold him out as precaution and shift Smith to D with Chytil returning for a more traditional 12 forwards, 6 D in Pittsburgh. … In the third, DeAngelo had a two punch knockdown of Kyle Okposo. Given Okposo’s history, it wasn’t too smart. Hopefully, he will be okay.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (11th of season plus a helper giving him 2-1-3 in the last two games)
2nd 🌟 Jeff Skinner, BUF (2 goals for #’s 35 & 36 for the big finisher chasing Ovechkin)
1st 🌟 Vladislav Namestnikov, NYR (2-1-3 to finally erase a 23-game drought for hard working and deserving player)