If there is a lesson to be learned in the past week and specifically this game it is that the third line with its current configuration,Dawes–Dubinsky–Prucha, have the ability to score and fore-check efficiently. With that said the young line continues to see limited time on the ice. Prucha and Dubinsky were the first and second stars of the game respectably; earned by their contributions of a goal each. Apparently the honor of being the two best players of the game is not good enough to earn the players more time on the ice. Prucha ended the game with 2 Pts. (Goal and Assist), but was only on the ice for 8 minutes and 51 seconds. Even more astounding was the 6:25 total time on ice (TOI) that centerman Brandon Dubinsky spent skating and fellow linemate Nigel Dawes’s ice time of just over 7 minutes.
It is time for Renney to give the third line more responsibility. In doing so the trio of youngsters gain more experience while the team can become a stronger offensive threat. Also you allow more time for the stars of the team to rest by effectively rolling four lines.
As for the rest of tonights match; we saw two periods of near perfect Rangers hockey. Period one consisted of strong forechecking and disciplined hockey. Rangers were guilty of one minor penalty in the first by Jagr who continues to take lazy hooking and holding infractions. The first line was very tenacious with Straka continuing his strong play, and Gomez shooting for the net at any opportunity. Dubinsky notched a nice goal a little over six minutes into the game. The goal was a product of a hardworking forecheck applied by Prucha and Dawes each earning an assist on the play. Defensively the Rangers were solid and Girardi stood out with a strong effort.
Period two was the melt down frame that could have easily cost them the game if not for stellar play on the penalty kill. With the game notted 1-1 with an early goal by Buffalo’s Pominville, the Rangers found themselves in a tenuous spot. The Rangers have shown an inability to pull away from the opposing team, and tonight was another example of the opposition staying right with the Rangers. Mara unknotted the tie with a strong shot off the face off to the point which was deflected by Prucha over Miller’s shoulder and into the net. We have seen Mara shoot a lot lately and be robbed by posts; nice to see his dedication to getting the puck to the net pay off with a big assist tonight. Minutes later we saw the meltdown that could have easily swayed the outcome and left the Rangers without the vital 2 points at the end of the game.
Malik‘s lack of speed resulted in a holding penalty which has been a reoccuring problem for the 6’6″ Czech defenseman. Ten seconds into the penalty kill Chris Drury made a undisciplined play resulting in a penalty and a Sabres 5 on 3 power play.
Betts had a tremendous penalty kill however and blocked numerous shots to help kill off the 5 on 3 disadvantage. The penalty killers were superb in not allowing high quality scoring chances on any of the power plays in the second period. The Rangers were guilty however of letting Buffalo control the game and momentum in period two, and that’s why the Rangers can’t take four penalties in one period it disrupts the flow of the game. The period ended 2-1 in the Rangers favor.
The final frame showed the Rangers play as well as they had in November. The forecheck kept the puck deep in the Buffalo zone for the majority of the period leaving the Sabres with only five shots on goal at the end of the period. Lundqvist was strong in net making 23 saves on 24 shots, but was not forced to be exceptional. The Rangers defense made his work relatively easy keeping Buffalo to the outside and rarely giving up a shot in the slot. Rangers also showed some discipline staying out of the box for the entire period. Shanahan was lucky to get away with a cross check in the last minute of the game which would have given Buffalo a 6 on 4 advantage with Miller pulled. Avery had a tenacious game in his return to the line up and forced a few offensive chances.
Are the Rangers finally out of their losing ways? Hard to tell. We saw a strong game from the entire team if you subtract the second period. The forecheck was great, the defense stood firm, and most importantly the team played with hustle and heart. The Rangers need to stay disciplined however as Buffalo was a powerplay goal away from forcing this game to overtime. The Rangers perfection on the penalty kill tonight was nice to see, but remember Buffalo has a lot of injuries and have had a weak powerplay as of late. Winning is a good sign, but Buffalo did come in on a 9 game losing streak which shows they are not beating teams right now. If the Rangers can bottle their efforts in the first and third period and play that way for the rest of the season then yes we’re on our way out of this dismal start of January. Time will tell, and effort. _X_