Groundhog Day for Rangers in another exasperating one goal loss to Sabres


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By show of hands, who is surprised that the Rangers lost another close game? I think by now, we are getting used to it. The ineptitude of this team is mind-boggling. Of course, they once again finished with more shots on goal than their opponent. Simply put, it doesn’t matter. Throw all the crappy statistics out. You can take all the possession garbage and chuck it.

Right now, the Rangers are a bad hockey team. They fail to execute when it counts. Undisciplined penalties. Lousy special teams. Awful turnovers. Blown coverages. That is how I’d describe this team. They do just enough to lose. It truly is Groundhog Day. David Quinn is Bill Murray character Phil Connors as the main star. His day keeps repeating over and over like a bad dream. His players are the costars with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Jacob Trouba and Tony DeAngelo continuing to under perform. Jack Johnson is the Tinman.

When your best players are not showing up regularly, you aren’t winning many games. Six games in, the Blueshirts are 1-4-1 with three points out of a possible 12. They sit in last place in a competitive division where the Devils are improved and even the Sabres are better at taking advantage of mistakes to win some games. That’s what they did tonight to pull out a 3-2 home win.

The difference truly was glaring Rangers mistakes that led directly to all three Sabres goals. They again didn’t play badly. But it was another blown lead that wound up in an all too predictable result. They’re now winless in four (0-3-1) with the rematch on Thursday.

It doesn’t matter how you lose. Like a broken record, Quinn and the players keep saying the same things. They need wins. Finding a way to do it is the key. It doesn’t help when they lose these games the same way. Neither the Penguins or Sabres are great teams. The Devils aren’t either. However, they all are finding ways to earn enough points in a division only schedule that means three and four point games.

When Panarin had his shot attempt blocked at the buzzer on a six-on-four, time ran out on the Rangers. They couldn’t take advantage of a bad Taylor Hall boarding minor that came with 1:37 to go. It was mostly the same players who failed to get anything done. More often than not, Quinn is gonna go with his guys. They are Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, Ryan Strome and Adam Fox on the top power play unit which failed in three chances.

Rookie Alexis Lafreniere was on for Alex Georgiev late as the extra attacker. He was calling for the puck from Panarin, who didn’t get it there. Lafreniere had a couple of close calls where he almost had goal number one. It just isn’t going in. He was robbed by Buffalo starter Linus Ullmark, who had himself a night by finishing with 28 saves. That included stopping 15 of 15 in a lopsided third where his team sat back. He looked like Dominik Hasek at times. That’s not a good sign.

As usual, it wasn’t all bad for the Blueshirts. Playing for the first time without Filip Chytil, they got off to a good start thanks to Quinn finally listening to me. He put the first line back together. With the more effective Pavel Buchnevich back with Zibanejad and Kreider to reform the KZB Line, they went to work. With the Sabres trying to get the puck out, some strong Buchnevich back pressure created a turnover off Kreider’s skate. That kept the puck in. Buchnevich skated into space behind the net and centered for an easy Kreider finish at 6:28. It was his second goal and first since the Devils loss.

In a period that was closely fought with Georgiev sharp early, another mind numbing penalty from Jack Johnson caused trouble. Following his trip of Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at the Rangers blue line, the Sabres went to work on the power play. It wasn’t the top unit that did the damage. Believe it or not, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger had enough faith in his second unit. A radical idea Quinn doesn’t believe in. Taking a feed from Rasmus Ristolainen, Eric Staal setup a wide open Dylan Cozens for a one-timer in the slot past Georgiev to tie it up at 12:50. It was Cozens’ second goal.

The fourth line had another strong game. With Strome on for Kevin Rooney, the grinders Brendan Lemieux and Colin Blackwell went to work down low. Eventually, Blackwell passed the puck up top for a quick K’Andre Miller shot that got by Ullmark with seven seconds to spare. The goal was the first of Miller’s career. He sure deserved it. He has been brilliant after an okay first game. Indeed, the future looks bright for the Rangers ’18 first round pick. It’s a good thing they traded up to select Miller at number 22. He has it together.

For Blackwell, it gives him points in his first two games as a Ranger. Not bad for a short guy who prior to arriving, had totaled 10 points in 33 NHL games with the Predators. Ten (3-7-10) came last season. I like how hard the 27-year old forward competes. He is willing to go the dirty areas and hustle. That work ethic has been missing from most of the top Rangers. Lemieux always does that too. But he just isn’t a Quinn guy. Guess he isn’t skilled enough. He picked up an assist in his return to the lineup.

The Rangers took a 2-1 lead to the locker room. They had to be feeling pretty good about themselves. That’s what made the second period inexplicable. Buffalo got nabbed for a bench minor for one too many skaters to hand the Rangers a golden opportunity to take control. Instead, they fired blanks. The first unit again was on for most of it. They’re not going in for Zibanejad from the off circle. Following a clear, out came the second unit. It still was the same with Buchnevich, Kakko, Lafreniere, DeAngelo and Trouba. Why they continue to throw Trouba out there I have no idea.

Naturally, as the penalty was expiring, the puck came to Trouba. Predictably, he missed it and then here came Tobias Rieder following a Matt Irwin clear past Trouba. Rieder had a clean breakaway and patiently out waited Georgiev with a nice fake to wrap the puck around and tuck it in at 6:03 of the second. Somehow, it was DeAngelo’s fault according to MSG Network apologist Joe Micheletti. He was supposed to know Trouba would get caught pinching in to hand Rieder basically a shorthanded breakaway goal. Only by the time he scored, the power play expired. At that point, I turned off the Rangers feed for the Sabres. I cannot stand what the Rangers telecast has become. Invent more excuses for why Trouba looks like an $8 million mistake.

It’s just embarrassing how bad MSG has become with this team. They never even provided an update on the longest tenured Garden employee after Sam Rosen and Walt Frazier. We have no clue what happened to Al Trautwig. I understand that maybe whatever is wrong, he wants kept private. I know I’m not alone here when I say I miss Al. He was great on these telecasts. He brought a sense of professionalism to the games. Only John Giannone does. The rest are a horror show. I also enjoy update man Bill Pidto, who brings both professionalism and a keen sense of humor to MSG.

When you are going bad, you can’t get out of your own way. On a night he scored his special first NHL goal, Miller was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking Cozens. Two young American rookies battling. Both taken in the first round a year apart.

On the first Sabres power play goal, Phil Di Giuseppe didn’t close out Cozens fast enough. On the second Sabres power play goal which took only 13 seconds, Buchnevich was too late to Jack Eichel, whose one-timer from the identical slot area beat Georgiev for the key go-ahead tally at 7:31. Victor Olofsson set it up. Dahlin assisted on it following an Eichel face-off win against Zibanejad. It was Eichel’s first of the season.

Face-off issues continue to plague this team. You can cite all the nonsensical Corsica possession statistics and the shot differential improvement. Until this team fixes its biggest problem in the dot, they’re going to continue to give up goals due to losing critical draws. They were so bad that the Sabres won a ridiculous 70 percent. That translates to 39-for-56. That means the Rangers only won 17. Abominable. Strome lost 11 of 15. Zibanejad wasn’t much better losing 15 of 21. Howden went an okay 5-and-8. Rooney was 2-and-2. Eichel went 11-and-8. Staal was a perfect 5-and-0. Cody Eakin went 12-and-7.

There is a big difference when you are losing most of the face-offs. Especially at key moments. How many Rangers power plays do we have to see start with a loss and clear down the ice? It’s been like this for years. Until it improves, you have to wonder if there’s any work being done to fix it. Ditto for the lousy special teams with the penalty kill a number of words I can’t publish.

Basically, special teams cost the Rangers the game. It really is frustrating. You want a further breakdown of Tuesday night? Here you go:

Five-On-Five

Rangers 2 goals on 23 shots

Sabres 1 goal on 15 shots

Five-On-Four

Rangers 0 goals on 7 shots

Sabres 2 goals on 9 shots

Face-offs

Rangers 17

Sabres 39

You aren’t winning consistently unless these numbers change. The third isn’t even worth discussing. The shots were 15-2. That means the Sabres led in shots 22-15 after 40 minutes. They just opted to protect the lead. It worked due to Ullmark and the Rangers’ ineptitude.

There’s nothing else left to add. Who gets the rematch? Igor Shestyorkin. Does it even matter? I’m fed up.

THREE STARS OF THE GAME

3rd 🌟 K’Andre Miller, Rangers (1st NHL goal, 3 SOG, +2 in 17:41)

2nd 🌟 Dylan Cozens, Sabres (power play goal, 3 SOG, +1 in 10:12)

1st 🌟 Linus Ullmark, Sabres (28 saves including 15 of 15 in 3rd)

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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