The distance between the home arenas of the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers is about 400 miles, but just three weeks into the season, the gulf between both teams seems much farther.
Heading into Thursday night’s meeting in New York City, the Sabres are off to a flying start, while the Rangers are on a five-game losing streak and own the second-fewest points in the NHL.
Buffalo is 8-1-1, and its 17 points are the most in the league so far. The Sabres are off to their second-best 10-game start since also opening 2009-10 at 8-1-1, after getting a 4-3 overtime home win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
It is the second straight season Buffalo is off to a blazing start. Last year, buoyed by a 10-game winning streak, the Sabres began 17-6-2, but wound up with 33 wins and out of the playoffs.
Jack Eichel scored twice on Tuesday and has 14 points through the first 10 games. He also had two assists and scored the game-winning goal 3:13 into overtime.
Eichel also has multiple four-point games through Buffalo’s first 10 games of the season. He is the sixth player in team history to do so.
“He’s a dominant player who can take over plays. That’s why he is who he is,” Buffalo center Jeff Skinner said. “He made some big plays in some big moments and did a great job.”
Eichel is among three Sabres with at least six goals. Victor Olofsson also has six, as does Skinner after scoring in a second straight game on Tuesday.
While the Sabres are enjoying one of the best starts in team history, the Rangers are worried recent events are threatening to derail the season.
New York won its first two games by scoring 10 goals in wins over Winnipeg and Ottawa on Oct. 3 and 5, but since then, the Rangers are 0-4-1 and have been outscored 20-9 while being outshot by a 177-129 margin.
“We’ve obviously not in a great spot right now,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be if we’re going to have a season.”
During this streak, New York has led for a total of 32:09 and allowed opponents to convert 6 of 21 power-play chances.
The latest loss was Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime home defeat to the Arizona Coyotes, and it followed a similar theme. After getting outshot 20-13 in the opening period in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Vancouver, the Rangers were outshot 21-4 in the first period against Arizona.
Tony DeAngelo scored two tying goals, and backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev made 32 saves, but Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin had minimal chances. Chris Kreider remained without a goal after scoring 28 times last season.
Attempting to end the skid has led Quinn to tinker with lines and shorten his bench at times. On Tuesday, Jesper Fast was on the top line with Panarin and Zibanejad, while Brendan Lemieux and rookie Kappo Kakko saw limited ice time.
“We’re just not doing the basics of what you need to do to have success right now, consistently,” Quinn said. “Sometimes we do it, more often we don’t do it. You can feel it — we’re in a little bit of a rut. We have to skate and get our way out of it.”
New York is 6-1 in the last seven meetings with the Sabres.
–Field Level Media