The speculation about Jack Eichel refuses to go away, or even quiet down for a while. The Buffalo Sabres captain has been the subject of trade rumors for months, and on his first visit to Madison Square Garden this season, Rangers fans made it known they want in.
Chants of "We want Eichel’’ broke out a few times throughout the game, from the crowd of 1,800 Tuesday night, and the Rangers got off to a quick start and beat the Sabres, 3-2, to close their three-game homestand.
Eichel, who has been bothered by injuries this season, had a secondary assist on Buffalo’s first goal, but otherwise didn’t do much as the Sabres lost their fourth straight game and fell to 6-11-3.
The Rangers (8-9-3) now go on the road for six straight games, beginning with two in Newark against the Devils on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. After that, they go to Pittsburgh for two games, and then Boston for two games.
Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and an assist in the game’s first three minutes, and Chris Kreider potted his 10th of the season midway through the second period, for what turned out to be the winning goal. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, starting his first game since last Wednesday night in Philadelphia, made 22 saves to earn the win after having lost five of his previous six decisions. The 25-year-old Russian took a shot to try and score an empty-net goal in the final seconds of the game, but the puck was intercepted by a Buffalo defender.
The Sabres (6-11-3) will stay downstate and play their next three games on Long Island against the Islanders on Thursday night, Saturday and Sunday.
Rangers coach David Quinn said he thought his team was "sluggish,’’ despite the fact that Buchnevich scored 28 seconds into the game and set up Alexis Lafreniere for another goal to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 2:36 of the opening period.
"Even though we got that early goal, we didn’t look sharp, for the most part,’’ Quinn said. "But I liked how we just managed to understand what we were dealing with going into the third period. I thought we just kind of managed the game. Some nights you’re not going to have it, and you got to find a way to win, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.’’
The Rangers led 2-1 after one period, went up 3-1 on Kreider’s goal at 9:32 of the second, and after Tobias Rieder scored for Buffalo to get the Sabres within 3-2 at 16:21 of the second period, the Rangers were able to strangle the life out of the Sabres in the third. They took only three shots in the final period, but allowed only five.
"We played a lot smarter than we have earlier in games with the lead in the third,’’ defenseman Adam Fox said. "We didn’t give them a lot of Grade A [scoring chances], and, you know, limited their chances. So we’ve definitely improved a lot . . . in holding the lead.’’
Speculation about Eichel being traded after the season has been hot ever since the 24-year-old franchise center told The Athletic in an interview last spring that he was "fed up with the losing’’ in Buffalo.
The Rangers are one of the teams that have been linked to any and all trade discussions for Eichel, who played college hockey at Boston University while Quinn was the coach there.
The L.A. Kings, Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild are among the other teams mentioned in the hunt for Eichel, who had 351 points in 371 games entering Tuesday night, but who has never played a playoff game since being drafted No. 2 overall, behind Connor McDavid, in 2015.