NEW YORK – Against an overwhelmed team that looks like it’s already playing out the string, the Rangers did what they had to do in earning their first home win of the season.
It’s only October, but it certainly looks like it’s going to be a torturous season for the Buffalo Sabres (2-12-1), who appeared as if they wanted to be anywhere but Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. They weren’t winning races, they weren’t winning battles, and generally they weren’t competing while getting whitewashed 2-0 by a Rangers team that might just be starting to find its way.
“We talked about giving our fans something to cheer about,” said Ryan McDonagh “We didn’t do that in the home opener, and we wanted to make it stand off our great effort on the Island the other night. Guys kept the energy going, and the momentum. We’re really happy about everybody’s play.”
The Rangers (5-7-0) threw a season-high 46 shots on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who was the only Sabre willing to compete as the Rangers peppered him throughout the game while his teammates stood around and watched.
“When everyone wants this to stop, it’ll stop,” Miller said after a lengthy post-game players’ meeting in the dejected Sabres locker room.
The Rangers won their second straight, the first time they’ve done so this season. After Buffalo put the first three shots of the game on Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves, 47th career shutout), the Rangers put 19 of the final 22 shots of the period on Miller. But only Derick Brassard was able to solve the Sabres netminder, who hopes to join Team USA’s Olympic team in Sochi this February.
“We did so many good things,” Lundqvist said. “I thought we were all over them pretty much the whole game. The last five or six minutes they came a little harder, but we deserve this one for sure. We did so many good things and had a lot of chances. It feels good to win.”
“We’re doing a lot of the things that you have to do to put some good performances together, and that’s what we did tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We came out extremely hard, and spent a good portion of the first two periods in their end.”
It was much of the same for the Rangers in the second period. They threw another 19 shots on Miller in the period, and again, only one got past. Mats Zuccarello’s initial shot was stopped at the 11:21 mark, but Chris Kreider (career-high six shots in 17:26 TOI) banked one in from a tough angle and off Miller’s back for his second goal in as many games.
“I think there were ebbs and flows,” Kreider said. “They had their chances, we had our chances. We did a good job pinning them in at times. At the same time, we want to keep their chances to a minimum.”
“When 20 gets going, it’s hard to slow him down,” Derek Stepan said of Kreider.
The line of Kreider, Stepan, and Zuccarello was especially dominating, combining for a total of 18 shots on goal. It’s a line that incorporates the high-end speed of Kreider and Zuccarello with the elite playmaking of Stepan.
“Big part of our line right now is Chris Kreider, the way he’s moving his feet,” Stepan said. “He’s on pucks, and when he does get pucks, he’s getting the puck to Zucc and Zucc’s making plays. I don’t know how many times tonight Zucc made a big pass and breaks down a defense and allows us to get those chances in-tight.”
“The last three out of four games, we’ve been playing really solid, playing 60 minute games,” said Carl Hagelin. “That’s something we need to do to beat the teams in our conference and our division. Today was a continuation from last game, where everyone chips in, and all lines are going.”
It was a complete effort for the Rangers, who dominated from nearly the opening puck drop to the final buzzer in earning their first home win of the season. It’s a team that continues to play with a better and better understanding of what Vigneault is asking, and looks like a unit gaining confidence within its’ system with each passing day.
“We had five guys close to the puck all night,” said McDonagh. “That’s a good key for us to try to continue to do. We had good support. If there was any kind of bobbled puck we had guys there to help support. It helps generate some rushes for us.”
“It definitely makes the games a lot easier when our structure is sound,” Stepan said. “Guys are competing, and we’re not giving much up. When we do give something up, our goaltender’s been great.”
Lundqvist’s 47th regular-season shutout leaves him two away from Eddie Giacomin for the all-time Rangers record.
The Rangers’ 46 shots on goal are the most they’ve had in a single game since putting 47 shots on the Islanders March 15, 2011.
Dan Girardi skated in his 500th game, while Marc Staal took the ice for the 400th time in his NHL career.
Alain Vigneault moved into 28th on the NHL’s all-time head coaching points list, earning 950 points in 818 career games coached.