Back on track after consecutive losses, the New York Rangers look to maintain their hold on sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division when they take on a surging Buffalo Sabres team that’s looking to continue its recent domination of the series.
The Rangers dropped two in a row last week after a three-game winning streak, the second loss being a 5-1 rout at the hands of first-place Carolina. New York, though, rebounded to beat the Hurricanes 4-3 in the finale of the home-and-home series Saturday and followed it up with a 3-2 win over sinking Boston the next day.
A resurgent Jaromir Jagr continued to be the biggest difference for the Rangers this season. The forward recorded five assists in the weekend wins to push his season total to 16, and snapped a third-period tie with his 19th goal in the victory over the Bruins.
“I always had more assists than goals,” Jagr said. “It’s just this year I look like a goal scorer.”
Jagr hasn’t reserved his inspired play just for the offensive end, however, consistently giving New York a dominant all-around effort.
“He’s a terrific playmaker, obviously,” coach Tom Renney said. “What I liked about his (last) game on top of all that, there were times he had to be the first forechecker in, he had to be the first forward back.
“Jags was a great player (Sunday).”
While the Rangers took advantage of the struggling Bruins, losers of six straight, they’ll be facing a Buffalo club that has won a season-high three in a row as well as their last three at home.
The Sabres beat Boston 3-2 on Saturday for their fourth victory in five games, a big turnaround from a season-high four-game losing streak to start November.
Buffalo appears to have rediscovered the form that allowed it to jump out to a 6-2 start.
“We have to keep going and keep pushing,” Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We have to get back to playing like we did in the beginning of the season, and keep working hard.”
The Sabres have had two days off to prepare for the Rangers, who have had little success against Buffalo of late.
Looking to maintain a two-point division lead over Philadelphia, which hosts Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, New York will have to break a four-game losing streak against Buffalo. The Sabres have won six of the last eight matchups.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 21): Rangers - 29 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Sabres - 22 points, 4th place, 8 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 19 goals and 35 points; Martin Straka, 19 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 34 PIM. Sabres - Daniel Briere, 12 goals and 20 points; Teppo Numminen, 13 assists; Paul Gaustad, 20 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 21): Rangers - Power play: 18.9 percent (26 for 137), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.7 percent (131 for 151), 2nd. Sabres - Power play: 21.6 percent (27 for 125), 4th. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (76 for 94), tied for 20th.
SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 22; Sabres, 3-1. At Buffalo, N.Y., Daniel Briere and Rory Fitzpatrick scored second-period goals to lift the Sabres.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 6-5-1 on the road; Sabres - 7-4-0 at home.