The Rangers snapped their three-game losing skid on Saturday night, defeating the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 5-1 at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have now swept the season series with the Sabres and have continued their success against their Winter Classic foe, as the Broadway Blueshirts have triumphed in 13 of the last 16 meetings between the two squads.
Early on in this one, the Sabres dominated the play. Alexandar Georgiev was very busy, as he was peppered with 14 shots in only the first 9:30 of action. Fortunately, the rookie goaltender was able to keep the game tied until the Rangers opened the floodgates towards the end of the first frame. In fact, the Rangers were being outshot 21-10 after the first 20 minutes, and 44-23 at the conclusion of the contest, but Buffalo’s substantial lead on the shot-board luckily didn’t translate to the scoreboard.
The Blueshirts poured in five unanswered goals in the game’s first two periods until Sam Reinhart ended Alexandar Georgiev’s shutout bid with under five minutes left in the contest. Chris Kreider put the Rangers on the board late in the first period, thanks to Mika Zibanejad’s perfect backhand cross-crease dish. Minutes later Jimmy Vesey struck on a nice move in front of the net after he corralled Mats Zuccarello’s point-shot. Early in the middle period, Neal Pionk blasted home his first NHL tally off of a beautiful setup from Jimmy Vesey. 4:46 later the Kreider and Zibanejad duo found the back of the net again, but this time it was Kreider sending a pretty pass to Zibanejad, who netted a power-play goal which marked the end of Robin Lehner’s disastrous evening. The Blueshirts weren’t done yet, as Ryan Spooner fed Jimmy Vesey, who beat Lehner’s replacement, Linus Ullmark, from between the circles to extend the Ranger lead to five. The Boys in Blue tallied all five of their goals on 6 consecutive shots.
New York’s newly-formed first line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Jesper Fast has been working some magic lately, as the trio was unstoppable again last night. Mika Zibanejad is riding a five-game goal streak and a seven-game point streak, during which he has notched 12 points. Despite his nine-game absence, the Swedish pivot has a career-high and team-leading 27 goals on the season, with 14 of them coming on the man-advantage. Additionally, line-mate Chris Kreider boasts a five-game point streak, on which he has recorded an impressive 10 points. The final member of the Rangers’ top unit, Jesper Fast, possesses an eight-game point streak which is both a career-high and the longest such streak any Blueshirt has achieved this campaign. With his assist on Saturday, Fast also surpassed the 30-point plateau for the first time in his career. As a whole, the threesome has combined for an unreal 25 points over the last 5 matches.
The other Ranger in the midst of something special is rookie-defenseman, Neal Pionk. The youngster added two more points last night, increasing his point streak to seven games, and giving him 12 points in his last 12 outings. Pionk has 14 points in his 21 career games, which would translate to approximately 55 points over a full 82 game season. The 22-year-old Minnesota Duluth alum has been terrific and looks like he has a bright future ahead of him on Broadway, but don’t expect him to sustain his current production rate. Furthermore, Kevin Hayes collected his 100th NHL helper, Jimmy Vesey reached a new career-high in goals with 17, and Alexandar Georgiev, who has already been nicknamed “Alexandar the Great” by Rangerstown, picked up his 4th career win.
The Blueshirts will play their second to last home game of the season on Monday night when they take on the streaking Washington Capitals (7:00 PM, NBCSN).
Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17