If you were to grade the Rangers last night, they’d get a solid D. That’s how inconsistent they were. Luckily, a missed offside disallowed a Sabres tying goal late. They also can thank Alex Georgiev for the 2-1 win over the scrappy Sabres in Western New York.
Without the rejuvenated backup goalie, they would’ve been toast. In fact, almost half of his 36 saves came in a busy third period. With the Rangers opting to sit back and ‘protect’ a one-goal lead, it was Georgiev who got it done by making 17 saves on 18 shots to pickup another win.
Since Igor Shesterkin went down, Georgiev is three-for-three in starts. After coming on to replace the injured Shesterkin in the third period of a shared 1-0 shutout over San Jose, he’s 3-0 with a 1.54 GAA and .949 save percentage.
What a turnaround for the 25-year old from Bulgaria. It’s almost like he just needed to get in a rhythm by getting into games. It’s a big relief for the Rangers, who look like they no longer have to worry about their backup. The way he’s stepped up, Georgiev has gotten his confidence back. That was on display Friday night.
“Obviously, Georgie was outstanding. He made some top end saves. They had some Grade A chances and I thought [Ukko-PekkaLuukkonen] was good too. But Georgie was excellent. He was the difference,” coach Gerard Gallant said afterwards while pointing out that it wasn’t the Rangers’ best effort.
“We’re happy with the win. Maybe not happy with how we played for 60 minutes. We just gotta keep reminding ourselves what we can do when we do, when we stick to our game plan,” goal scorer Mika Zibanejad said after finally ending a 14-game scoring drought. “I try not to bear myself up over it. But again, I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Human nature I guess.”
The Rangers played a good first period. They got off to a fast start. Following a scrap between Barclay Goodrow and John Hayden, they took the play to the Sabres. At one point, the shots were 11-2. To his credit, Buffalo rookie netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was strong. He kept his team afloat early on.
Special teams continue to be a factor in the wins for this team. Put on the power play less than five minutes in, the Rangers made short work of a Mark Pysyk tripping minor on Artemi Panarin.
On a broken play down low from Adam Fox and Panarin, Zibanejad was able to get to a loose puck and score his fifth of the season at 4:48. It was his first goal in 15 games. He looked to the heavens as if to say thank you.
They would go back on the power play a few minutes later. Despite some good chances that included a terrific pad save by Luukkonen to rob Chris Kreider on the doorstep, the Blueshirts were unable to increase the lead. Kaapo Kakko had him all set up, but Luukkonen made the save of the night.
Following the successful penalty kill, the Sabres finally began to skate better. They grabbed the momentum by finishing the period with a strong final five minutes. They also wound up with four of the last five shots. That included a point blank Jeff Skinner chance that Georgiev denied. A key stop.
The second period saw both clubs get chances. Both goalies were good. Georgiev robbed Vinnie Hinostroza in front off a good feed. Luukkonen made a key blocker ssve by stoning Julien Gauthier off a rush. Gauthier remains stuck with one goal despite creating opportunities.
Halfway through the second, the First Round Pick Line struck for a huge goal. On a good pass from Filip Chytil up to Fox for a low wrist shot, the puck rebounded right to a driving Alexis Lafreniere, who buried his sixth at 9:47. After assisting on a Chytil goal in Wednesday’s loss to Colorado, the 20-year old left wing made it two straight games with a point. A positive development.
Over a minute later, Brett Murray forced Jacob Trouba to hook him after he had a step in the neutral zone. In between, Trouba’s partner K’Andre Miller hit two goalposts. He was more aggressive shooting the puck throughout.
The Rangers killed off the Sabres’ power play. They didn’t get much set up. In two chances, they had three shots on Georgiev, who had no problem shutting them down. That included a Ryan Reaves cross-checking minor on Victor Olofsson with 44 seconds remaining in the period.
Despite taking a 2-0 lead to the locker room, it didn’t feel like a safe one. The Sabres outshot them 13-12. In particular, Skinner was dangerous throughout. He led all skaters with eight shots on goal. Had Georgiev not been sharp, it might’ve been a different outcome.
Sure enough, the third was conservatively played. Opting to sit back and protect the two-goal lead, the Blueshirts allowed the Sabres to attack the zone. They got six of the first seven shots. It had the eerie feel of a Buffalo comeback.
If you allow a weak opponent to stay alive, they won’t give up. One thing about the Sabres is they work hard under coach Don Granato. As defensively challenged as they are, they are effective on the forecheck. That hard work eventually paid off to make it a game.
On some sustained pressure behind the Ranger net, Kyle Okposo got the puck over to Pysyk, who slipped a pass from behind the net in front for an open Murray to collect and bury for a goal with 5:23 left in the game. He beat Kakko to the net for his second.
With the Sabres back in it, they also got an enormous save from Luukkonen on Chytil to rob him on a three-on-one. He was able to get over along the goalpost and keep Chytil’s shot out. That third line was good in limited action.
With time winding down, it looked like the Sabres had tied the game. But following a wild scramble in front that saw Buffalo beat Georgiev for what looked like a tying goal from Victor Olofsson, NHL headquarters called down to notify the refs that they were reviewing for offside.
Even the Buffalo feed which featured legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray knew Rasmus Dahlin was way offside before the eventual scoring play. It wasn’t even close. How they missed it I have no idea. For the Rangers, they caught a lucky break.
Time was put back on the scoreboard. It went back to 1:26 which gave the Sabres plenty of time to see if they could get it tied. But, that goal never came. Georgiev calmly made three saves including a clutch one on a Skinner backhand in tight.
The closest Buffalo came is when Tage Thompson narrowly missed on a long shot that hit the outside of the goalpost. After that close call, both Ryan Lindgren and Fox made key blocks before the latter made a key clear that killed the Sabres’ chances.
When the buzzer sounded, it wasn’t quite over. Goodrow sneakingly tripped up Dylan Cozens from behind. He didn’t like it, responding by giving Goodrow a whack. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed with Fox involved. The officials did a good job separating Cozens from Goodrow.
It wasn’t the greatest game. At the end of the day, they got the two points. That’s all that matters. They can now put the Avalanche loss in the rear view. Speaking of Colorado, they put up another seven spot in a win over Detroit. Yikes.
Not every win is perfect. Now, they’ll host Nashville on Sunday night. The Predators have already beaten both the Islanders and Devils by a goal. They’re a strange team. But have good players like Roman Josi, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen playing well. Juuse Saros is a good goalie.
It should be an interesting game. We’ll see how it goes. They want to win that one with a rematch at Colorado on Tuesday.