Sabres eye rare winning streak as Rangers visit

Field Level Media

Their longest homestand of the season began with some shaky defensive performances, but the Buffalo Sabres have tightened up their defense in recent games.

The Sabres aim to continue their defensive improvement and get consecutive wins for the first time in over two months on Friday night when they conclude a seven-game homestand against the New York Rangers.

The Sabres began the homestand by allowing 17 goals and going 1-1-1 in three games against Chicago, Minnesota, and Carolina. Since then, they have won two of three games by sandwiching 3-1 victories over the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders around a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg.

"It's probably been a bit inconsistent, but we have a good test on Friday against a team that's playing good hockey," Buffalo center Jack Eichel said. "It's going to be important for us to come out and have a good effort on home ice to end this homestand."

On Tuesday, the Sabres (28-21-7) reached 63 points to surpass their total from last season by beating the Islanders, allowing only 25 shots on goal. It was their third straight game allowing under 30 after giving up 105 shots in the first three games of the homestand.

"It's the time of year you need to defend to win games," Buffalo right winger Jason Pominville said. "I think everybody's starting to realize that."

Pominville scored the game-winning goal 6:49 into the second period against the Islanders and has three goals on the homestand. Jack Eichel had two assists Tuesday and has two goals and six assists in his last six games.

Jeff Skinner scored his 34th goal Tuesday and is three shy of his career-high set two seasons ago.

The Sabres last won consecutive games Dec. 11-13 when they beat Los Angeles and Arizona at home. Since then, they are 9-12-3.

They are hoping to continue defending well before playing eight of their next 11 on the road.

"The way that we were giving them up, just kind of standing around in front, not taking our guys, it was a big wake-up call for us, because if we're going to make the playoffs, we need to be really, really good defensively," Buffalo right winger Kyle Okposo said.

While the Sabres enter Friday four points behind Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers (24-24-8, 56 points) are 11 points back, and trade rumors are starting to surface ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline.

One candidate to be moved is Mats Zuccarello, who of late is forming strong chemistry with Mika Zibanejad.

Zuccarello recorded two assists in Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Winnipeg and has 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in his last 12 games. He also has a multi-point game in six of his last 11 contests and has 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in his last 25 contests.

"We're playing so many games now, it's not hard to keep my focus on the ice," Zuccarello told reporters. "I'm keeping a clear mind about things. It's not like I'm waiting to be told that I'm traded. We'll all find out soon enough."

Zibanejad scored twice against Winnipeg and has 13 goals in his last 11 games. He also has 21 points in his last 13 contests and leads the team with 25 goals and 56 points.

"It's obviously nice to see the bounces go in," Zibanejad said. "But we didn't win, so it doesn't really matter."

Another candidate to be moved by the deadline is Kevin Hayes, whose 38 points are third on the team.

The Rangers and Sabres split a pair of 3-1 games earlier in this season. Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton made 43 saves in Buffalo's home win on Oct. 6, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 shots in New York's home win on Nov. 4.

Overall, New York is 12-2 in the last 14 meetings with the Sabres.

--Field Level Media

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