Game #53 Jimmy Vesey Revenge Night, Hutton owns the Rangers again in Sabres 3-2 win, Awful Panarin overkill by MSG Network


Jimmy Vesey gets some love from Jack Eichel after his goal which proved to be the game-winner versus his former team in a Sabres 3-2 win over the Rangers on Artemi Panarin 24/7 Night at MSG. AP Photo credit Buffalo Sabres via Getty Images

If you know anything about hockey, anyone can beat anyone. Even the best teams can have off nights. It’s hard to be perfect over a long 82 game schedule. I wish it had occurred to the Rangers that they couldn’t just show up to the rink and think it would be an easy two points against a struggling Sabres, who have been flu ridden and played a back-to-back on the road.

In the best league, you CANNOT show up for five out of 60 minutes and expect to win. Last night was embarrassing. Forget the last ditch effort to pull off a Miracle on 34th Street. Yes. It’s true the fragile Sabres tried their best to hand them the game. However, this was inexcusable. Who did they think they were? The Bruins, Lightning or Caps.

The Rangers got exactly what they deserved. The final score might read, Sabres 3 Rangers 2. But anyone who saw that ugly display knows better. They were sloppy throughout and it was an annoying game. Frustrating and disappointing. We watched at Jon’s on his DVR in the mancave. Only it’s all the way up. It’s pretty cool. He’s got a lot of nice posters on the wall including a Jordan/Bryant one that now is a haunting reminder. It just is very sad. There’s a lot of Mets stuff because he’s a huge Amazin’s fan. And plenty of Knicks, which is depressing in its own right. I love them too.

I knew the score was 1-0 Buffalo late in the first when Justin and I arrived. But I didn’t say anything. I never would. Besides, I didn’t see what happened. I knew better than to watch when we were visiting our great friend. I’m not that way at all. I don’t like watching stuff from behind. But it is what it is. If we have to do it from time to time due to Jon’s cute baby girl Emma, I’m good with that.

I love watching sporting events live. But if I don’t and catch up, I prefer to still see everything in its entirety. That way I can get a feel for the game. Just by the way they played the first period, we could tell that the Rangers were off their game. The passing wasn’t crisp. There were bad turnovers instead due to poor puck management. This wasn’t anything like the exciting 5-3 win over the defense optional Maple Leafs.

Give the Sabres credit. They had a good game plan and executed it to near perfection until it got a little dicey. One of Bill Pidto’s favorite expressions dating back to his ESPN days when I worked behind the scenes. Yes. I actually got to work with Bill when he did ESPN News. He is a very funny guy. He would joke about things and even talk to me about his stocks. He’s a interesting person. Nobody has been a better fit than Pidto at MSG. His MSG 150 is must see. The man’s a pro. Don’t forget it was that guy who originally hosted NHL2Nite prior to John Buccigross. Whenever there was a score update from a game, he would say, “What do we have?”

Unfortunately tonight, MSG Network decided to do a in game feature of lifetime Ranger Artemi Panarin. I love the Bread Man as much as anyone. He’s been unbelievable in this great first year as a Broadway Blueshirt. But from the outset, it was painfully obvious what the broadcast would be about. It was Panarin 24/7 TV on MSG. You had the ISO Cam for every shift. It was overkill. I love the production. I understand how much work goes into it because I worked in a truck for the Devils. I just felt it took away from the game.

One other point regarding this love fest. The in game analysis on everything Artemi became annoying by the third period. Here you had a game in which the team failed to play well in. They trailed by two goals and had barely tested Ranger killer Carter Hutton. It was only made worse by Jimmy Vesey getting revenge by scoring the eventual game-winner in the third period. He also had an assist while benefiting from playing on the Buffalo top line with the great Jack Eichel and underrated Sam Reinhart. He scored too. Gee. I wonder if that Scrooge reporter had anything to say to him after the game. What a loser.

What I’m saying here is I didn’t need to see MSG’s Steve Valiquette with that annoying smirk on his face providing more insight on Panarin shifts with the team losing. Where was the game analysis? Anything would’ve been better. I felt like the whole thing was a jinx that came off forced. It felt like they were saying, ‘Who cares about the game? We’re celebrating 53 games of the Bread Man. Let’s have some cake!’

It would’ve been a lot better had they been winning. Panarin spent most of the night frustrated by the Sabres constant tugs and checking. They were relentless. They got away with some hooks and gave him the business. Even Jeff Skinner was in his grill during one shift. I have to hand it to Ralph Krueger. He had his team prepared. What about David Quinn? Why was his team so flat with an extra day off? It made about as much sense as Kaapo Kakko starting on the fourth line that shall remain nameless. Thank the heavens he didn’t stay there. He played one of his best games. He was easily the best Ranger.

If only more players had come with that kind of effort. It was one of those games. I said to Jon and Justin that it felt like a 4-1 kind of night. It nearly came true. At least Carter Hasek Hutton didn’t pitch a shutout. That would’ve been typical. This team hasn’t gotten shutout all year. Hutton did improve to 5-2-0 in eight games versus the Rangers for his career. His GAA (2.16) and save percentage (.932) improved following a 37 save effort in which he stopped 21 of 23 shots in a much busier final frame. The funny aspect is this guy has even better career numbers vs the Pens. You cannot make this stuff up.

For two periods, it was a vacation. Hutton could’ve been on a lounge chair on a beach. He didn’t have to do much. The Rangers obliged by playing lazy hockey. They turned pucks over and we’re caught out of position defensively. By the way they played, it looked like they took the Sabres lightly. That was most discouraging. Maybe they too were caught up in Artemi 24/7 TV on MSG.

Alex Georgiev got the start. In his first appearance as a starter since before the break on Jan. 21, he was blameless. None of the three Buffalo goals were on him. This was a simple case of the team doing a poor job in front of him. He actually kept them in it with some good saves. Georgiev finished with 25. It wasn’t enough to win. He also relieved Henrik Lundqvist earlier this week in the loss to Dallas. He stopped five of six shots in the third.

It was on a weird line change that the Rangers gave up the game’s first goal. Colin Miller hit Zemgus Girgensons with a good pass to spring him loose in the neutral zone. With Brady Skjei coming on late, Marc Staal got caught out of position. An on rushing Girgensons made a nice move around Staal and then went to a backhand deke, forehand tuck to beat Georgiev, who didn’t come out and challenge. That’s my only criticism. I don’t think he thought Girgensons would get in. I can’t believe he has 10 goals. One of the few Sabres outside Eichel, Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin that are performing well.

In a period played entirely at five-on-five, the edge went to Buffalo. They were sharper and did what they had to do to take the lead to the locker room. Somewhat curiously, Vesey started the game on the top line. I wondered if he would stay there. It worked out well for him. He was noticeable throughout and could’ve had another goal earlier off a nice Eichel backhand setup. He truly is a special player. Imagine if they ever surround him with talent. One of the game’s best players needs the spotlight of the playoffs.

There weren’t many players who played well in the first 20 minutes for the home side. Pavel Buchnevich was again engaged. He only wound up with one shot, but I don’t understand how. He generated chances and was even feisty going at a Sabre after a whistle. That’s how he must play. I didn’t notice Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider early on. Panarin struggled with the Sabres diligent checking. Ryan Strome is officially in a scoring slump. He continues to get looks, but they’re not going in.

Filip Chytil and Kakko both looked good. Eventually, they would wind up together after the Phil Di Giuseppe experiment produced nothing. What was the point? I get what Quinn is trying to do. He wants to make Kakko more defensively responsible and earn his ice time. It worked. He had some dominant shifts that displayed his unique talent including puck possession. If he continues to play like that, it bodes well.

The second period was much of the same. The Sabres staying disciplined while the Rangers made mistakes. With the officials continuing to let them play, it allowed Buffalo to frustrate Panarin. None of this was featured on MSG. Eventually, he had enough taking a needless holding penalty on Miller as soon as Skjei got out there. Coincidence? I think not. Nothing positive ever happens when Brady is on the ice in his end. He clearly is hurting Jacob Trouba, who continues to under perform. He’s not an $8 million player. That’s not his fault. That was the market. Of course, the Rangers overpaid. They frequently do. Are they really going to let Kreider go when he still has a lot more to give? It would be so Rangers. They’ll be worse off.

Of course, Leslie is right. Anyone with a pulse can see how much Kreider means to the team. The chemistry he has with Zibanejad is unmistakable. They push Buchnevich to be better. That’s why Quinn continues to roll out the KZB line. It’s a good fit. If they can figure out a way to retain Kreider, they’ll be much closer to the playoffs in the next couple of years. Even without a true top pair left defenseman. Truthfully, Adam Fox is the best D they got. He’s getting more and more confident and Quinn is rewarding him. By night’s end, he was the lone defenseman out there when Georgiev went to the bench. He’s extremely poised for his age.

Hockey is a funny game. You can have a real good offensive shift like the one the trio of Chytil, Kakko and Brendan Lemieux Di Giuseppe were having. They came very close to tying the game up. That was largely due to Kakko in full beast mode. Wait till he gets stronger and improves his skating. He showed off some of that Jagr like quality throughout this one. There was one awesome shift where he made a power move around a Sabre and nearly pulled off a great goal. That’s the kid the Rangers drafted.

Unfortunately, during the same shift, the Sabres turned the puck the other way quickly. With only Ryan Lindgren back and Chytil unable to come back hard, it became a two-on-one. Eichel sprung Reinhart, who went to the backhand to score a nice even strength goal for his 20th at 15:16 of the second. Vesey started it from his end to earn a helper.

The goal was a crusher. Chytil just didn’t have enough left to backcheck. It’s much easier to play offense at that young age than get back defensively. This wasn’t about lack of hustle. He just isn’t as good skating back. Reinhart dusted him to make it 2-0. I’m still not sold on Chytil as a center. We’ll see.

With the Sabres taking away the neutral zone and keeping most shots to the perimeter, it made life easier on Hutton. He only had to stop 16 total shots the first two periods.

In the third, a driving Zibanejad finally got a step on the Buffalo defense to draw a holding minor on defenseman Henri Jokiharju. The real exasperating part of the first Ranger power play was the top unit’s insistence on making the perfect play. They had the Sabres penalty kill hemmed in. But a low percentage Zibanejad forced pass went out of the zone to let the tired four penalty killers off the hook. By the time the second unit got out, there were 30 seconds left. What a waste.

With the Sabres sitting back, they were clearly waiting to pounce on another Ranger mistake. They got it more than halfway through when Eichel found Vesey at the Ranger blueline. He was able to split both Trouba and Brendan Lemieux and break in and score on what else but a backhand down low on Georgiev to make it 3-0 Sabres with 8:04 remaining. It was only his eighth goal. I don’t think he cared. It had to feel good.

For the longest time, it seemed like Hutton was destined for a shutout. He had to make a lot more saves as the Blueshirts finally realized they had to be more desperate and put actual shots on the veteran backup. What a concept. By this point though, he wouldn’t break. He was stopping everything. The Sabres did a good job allowing him to see the puck.

As MSG continued the Artemi Panarin 24/7 show, he finally did something. Moved up to the top line, he turned a innocent looking play into an unreal saucer backhand feed across for a cutting Zibanejad for his 22nd goal with 2:53 left in regulation. I don’t know how he did it. It was just great vision by a special player. We initially thought it was just a backhand pass that banked off a Sabre and in. The replay didn’t do it justice.

Quinn then pulled Georgiev once his team had clear possession on the attack. It was then that Rasmus Ristolainen took a dumb hooking minor on Kakko. It was a lazy penalty. He’s just not that good. He can produce offense and hit. But defensively speaking, he stinks. As good Buffalo pal Brian has said, they need to move him for a center or goalie.

On the power play, Quinn risked it by going for a six-on-four which meant Buffalo could go for the empty net shorthanded. But there were less than two minutes left. On a good play from both Zibanejad and Kakko, Kreider was able to get enough on a rebound to squeeze the puck just over the goal line by Hutton with 1:40 still left. They made sure to review the play and Jon was proven right. It looked in, but you couldn’t tell to the replay. That gave Kreider his 20th goal. It’s amazing to think that on my birthday back on Dec. 8, he entered that game with only six. Since then, he’s scored 14 of his 20 while going over a point-per-game. What a turnaround.

By that point, Quinn had to keep Georgiev on the bench for the six-on-five. They certainly had some looks. But it didn’t fall their way. An offside on Panarin with Fox trying to get in got to the competitive Russian. He cursed in his own language, obviously mad at himself for not staying onside. That’s the kind of night it was.

In the end, the right team won. Kudos to the Sabres for playing a good game. They deserved the two points. It would’ve been crazy had the Rangers come all the way back after not doing anything for so long.

One final thought. I couldn’t understand why Buchnevich was not out at the end while Lemieux was. It didn’t make sense. Of course, Lemieux went after Curtis Lazar at the final horn. It was nonsensical. He had gone at it with Brandon Montour earlier after the defenseman pushed him down to the ice in front of Hutton. It should have been interference, but not on Friday night. Old rules prevailed. So did Buffalo.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Jimmy Vesey, Sabres (8th goal plus 🍎, 4 shots, +2 in 15:32)

2nd 🌟 Carter Hutton, Sabres (37 saves including 21 in 3rd, 5-2-0 vs NYR)

1st 🌟 Jack Eichel, Sabres (2 🍎, +3 in 21:29-24 shifts)

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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