BUFFALO — If an opening night matchup against the team with the best record in the NHL last season represented a measuring stick for the Rangers, then wouldn’t Saturday's game against the team with the worst record in the league be a different measuring stick for David Quinn’s club?
If so, what is there to be made of the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the Sabres?
“I thought we played pretty well, but I don’t think we played winning hockey enough throughout the game,’’ Quinn said. “There’s a difference between playing well and playing winning hockey.’’
Conor Sheary, one of several additions to the Sabres’ roster after the club underwent a number of changes in the offseason, scored two power-play goals and Jack Eichel had an empty-netter in the final seconds to seal it as the Sabres dropped the Rangers to 0-2 (the only winless team in the Metropolitan Division).
Rookie Brett Howden scored his first NHL goal with 4:39 left in the third period as the Rangers cut their deficit to 2-1, but they couldn't get the tying goal.
Despite the loss, the players in the Rangers' locker room were encouraged by the way they played. Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 26 of 28 shots, said the team is playing well, but needs to find a way to get over the hump and win by any means necessary.
"This league is not about playing great – it’s just making key plays at the right time, and finding a way to win games,’’ Lundqvist said. “I think that’s something we need to learn, as well. As much as we want to talk about the process, [and] getting better, we just need key plays at key times. And we’re right there. We’re a good enough team. We just need that extra play at the right time and win games.’’
The Rangers had 44 shots on goal, but Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton stopped 43 of them. And the Rangers’ special teams let them down, allowing two power play goals in four chances, and failing to score on three power plays of their own.
Quinn was unhappy with a hit by Buffalo’s Patrik Berglund on Rangers rookie Filip Chytil early in the second period. Replays appeared to show Berglund’s shoulder hitting Chytil in the chin. Chytil left for mandatory concussion screening, but he returned later in the period.
“Yes, I had a big problem with the hit,’’ Quinn said. “I mean, it was a hit to the head. [Chytil] didn’t have the puck and they hit him in the head. From what I’ve been told already, the league’s already looking at it.’’
Quinn also questioned the penalty against Chris Kreider that led to the Sabres’ first goal. The teams were skating four-on-four after coincidental minor penalties when Kreider and Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner got tangled up and both went down to the ice. Kreider got called for holding, but Quinn thought it was Skinner, and not Kreider, who should have been penalized.
“It definitely looked that way,’’ Quinn said. “What are you gonna do? Gotta kill the penalty.’’
Late in the game, Quinn benched a couple of players. Howden, the 20-year-old fourth line center playing his second NHL game, was out taking a key offensive zone faceoff with 1:16 left and the Rangers’ net empty. And when the Rangers were down a goal, and had six skaters on the ice looking for the tying goal, first-line right wing Pavel Buchnevich and second-line center Kevin Hayes weren’t among them. Chytil, a 19-year-old rookie playing in his 11th NHL game, was out there, too.