The absence of Filip Chytil, who will be out 4-6 weeks, prompted Rangers coach David Quinn to scramble his forward lines for Tuesday’s game in Buffalo, and for one period, it looked as though it was working.
But two second-period goals by the Sabres turned things around, and meant another blown lead by the Rangers and a fourth straight loss, this one by the score of 3-2 in the opener of a two-game series in Buffalo.
Tobias Rieder and Jack Eichel scored the Sabres goals that wiped out the 2-1 lead the Rangers had taken in the closing seconds of the first period, on the first NHL goal by rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller. The teams play again on Thursday in the final game of the Rangers’ four-game road trip.
The Rangers (1-4-1) remain buried in last place in the East Division. And unlike the first two games on this road trip, in which the Rangers believed they had played well and done a lot of good things, there didn’t seem to be anything to feel good about in this one.
"I thought, for the last four [games] we were skating, competing, for the most part, for 60 minutes,’’ coach David Quinn said. "In general, if you watched our team, you felt, ‘OK, we’re going to win games. We’re doing the things we need to do.’ And tonight, certainly [that] was not the case.‘’
Once again the Rangers’ best players were their young ones, though Chris Kreider did score the Blueshirts’ first goal. However, most of their top offensive players -- Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome -- were quiet.
"No,’’ Zibanejad said, when asked if the Rangers’ top two lines were doing enough. "I mean, we’re not winning games. We’re supposed to contribute but we’ve just got to figure a way out of this.’’
"We’re not getting enough from our top six [forwards], for sure,’’ Quinn said.
Chytil, injured Sunday in the 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, is out with what the Rangers are calling an upper-body injury. He was hurt after being hit by Pittsburgh winger Evan Rodrigues, who also was injured on the play.
With Chytil out, Quinn reconfigured his lines, moving Pavel Buchnevich, who’s been the best forward since the start of training camp, back up to the first line, with Zibanejad and Kreider, who moved back to his natural left wing position. Chytil’s line, with Kaapo Kakko and Phillip DiGiuseppe, was split up, with DiGiuseppe, normally a left wing, moving to right wing with Panarin and Strome, and Kakko playing with No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere and center Brett Howden.
Buchnevich, who Quinn was hoping would spark his old linemates, did just that, when he chased down a loose puck in the Sabres’ zone, circled the net and centered to Kreider, who beat Linus Ullmark for his second goal of the season, at 6:28.
Buffalo tied it with a power play goal by Dylan Cozens, at 12:50. But Miller restored the Rangers’ lead with a one-time blast off Colin Blackwell's pass with 6.1 seconds left in the period.
But Buffalo grabbed control of the game in the second period. The Sabres were called for too many men on the ice, giving the Rangers their first power play, but two seconds after the man advantage expired, Rieder scored on a breakaway to tie the score 2-2 at 6:03.
"Boy did our bench get demoralized [after that goal],’’ Quinn said. "You could just feel it, there wasn’t any life to our bench. We were lucky to get out of that period only down by one.’’
The one came when Eichel, who played college hockey at Boston University when Quinn was the coach there, scored on a Sabres power play at 7:31 to put the Sabres up 3-2.