Henrik Lundqvist’s solid play in net has helped the New York Rangers head into the new year on quite a roll.
They’d be feeling much better about their position if they had gotten the season off to a better start.
The Rangers look to win a fifth straight game at Madison Square Garden and fifth consecutive meeting with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
New York (20-11-4) has won nine of 10 after winning 5-2 at Florida on Wednesday. Derek Stepan had three assists and Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis finished with a goal and an assist apiece.
Lundqvist has started nine games during the hot stretch, posting a 1.76 goals-against average after needing to make only 18 saves Wednesday. New York still sits in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, though, in part because it went 11-10-4 prior to the current run.
"We have to keep winning to stay in the race and be on the right side here," Lundqvist told the team’s official website. "There’s a lot of good teams in the league that expect themselves to be in the playoff race, and we expect from ourselves to be a top team. I think it’s going to be a tight race until the end. We’re really going to have to earn it."
The Rangers have played two fewer games than Washington and three fewer than Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders – the three clubs ahead of them in the division race.
"Our expectations are to get into the playoffs, but everybody is winning, so we haven’t gained (much) ground on anybody," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We have a couple games in hand, so we just have to keep playing well and keep getting points."
The defending Eastern Conference champions have won seven of eight at the Garden after a 5-4-3 start at home. Lundqvist is 5-1-0 with a 2.15 GAA in his last six home starts and has a 1.51 GAA while making each start during the Rangers’ four-game winning streak against the Sabres.
Buffalo (14-22-3) has been outscored 15-6 during that skid and has scored two or fewer goals five times during its current 1-6-1 stretch after falling 2-0 to Florida on Friday.
The Sabres have been outscored 12-3 during a three-game losing streak. They haven’t picked up a non-shootout victory since beating the Panthers in overtime Dec. 13 and have been outshot in six straight.
"We’re not shooting enough," coach Ted Nolan said. "In order to score, especially on top-end goaltenders, you’ve got to get some screens in front of them, you’ve got to throw some pucks from everywhere, and we didn’t do it."
Jhonas Enroth could be back in net after Michal Neuvirth made 31 saves Friday. Enroth, though, has a 3.94 GAA during a 2-3-1 stretch while allowing at least four goals five times.
Each goalie has made five appearances against the Rangers, with Enroth posting a 2.57 GAA and Neuvirth at 4.26 – his worst against any team.
New York defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Boyle should be available despite missing Friday’s practice due to personal reasons.
Buffalo got defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen back Friday after he missed two games with an illness.