Here's how they can do it:
Score On The Power Play: You've probably seen this in nearly every single Keys To The Game we've done this season, and for good reason. The Rangers went 1-for-6 on the power play against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In a 3-2 shootout loss, those five missed opportunities are huge. The Rangers have done some good things on the power play this season, but there needs to be more. A Ryan Callahan snipe from the high slot is not a good power play. It works, but it's not always going to work. The Rangers need to be more successful when a team gives them a man advantage. It will help them win games too.
Rotate The Defense ... Maybe: With Michael Sauer not making the trip to Buffalo tonight, the Rangers are down one of their most reliable defenders. Both Dan Girardi (32 minutes), Ryan McDonagh (over 27 minutes) and Michael Del Zotto (over 26 minutes) played a significant amount of time against the Lightning. And while John Tortorella obviously doesn't have too many other options on the table, the trio will wear down eventually if that pace continues. The problem? I don't know what else Tortorella can do short of calling up Tim Erixon (who did have two assists last night for the Connecticut Whale) or simply trusting Jeff Woywitka and Anton Stralman to play more than 10 minutes each. We'll see what happens tonight.
More keys to the game and the Rangers official pregame notes below.
Fatigue Factor: The Sabres played last night, in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers. That means the Rangers have a significant edge in the fatigue factor. There should be no slow start tonight, and the Rangers should be able to jump on a tired team early. Buffalo can be a tough place to play, so a few quick goals would do much to quite the crowd and make things easier for the Rangers.
Get The Confidence Back: When the Rangers won 12 of their last 14 games -- let's be honest, that streak was alive just two games ago so no need to act like New York is in a tailspin -- you could tell that they expected to win every single game. And they still do. But that confidence can start to edge away if you take a few hits in the loss column. A win tonight would go a long way to continue to preserve the Rangers' confidence at this point in the season. And in the end, we've seen just how important confidence can be for a team in this league.
Rangers official pregame notes below.
* All information through NHL games on Dec. 8
The Rangers will face-off against the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow at First Niagara Center (7:00 p.m.), to begin a back-to-back set. The Blueshirts currently rank third in the Atlantic Division standings, and fifth in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 15-6-4 (34 pts). The Rangers enter the contest having been defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, in the shootout on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, and have now recorded at least one point in 13 of their last 16 contests (12-3-1). The Sabres have a 14-11-2 (30 pts) record to rank seventh in the Eastern Conference entering their contest tonight vs. Florida, and have lost six of their last seven home games (1-4-2). Following tomorrow's contest, the Rangers will face-off against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, Dec. 11, at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m.), to conclude their back-to-back set.
RANGERS PRACTICE SCHEDULE:
Prior to tomorrow's contest, the Rangers' morning skate is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at First Niagara Center. Head Coach John Tortorella will be available to the media at 11:45 a.m.
* Schedule and availability subject to change
* TV: MSG Network
6:30 p.m. - Rangers Pre-Game Show with Bill Pidto and Ron Duguay
7:00 p.m. - Rangers at Sabres
Broadcasters: John Giannone (Play-By-Play), Joe Micheletti (Analyst), Dave Maloney (In-Game Reporter)
* Radio: 1050 ESPN Radio and newyorkrangers.com
6:30 p.m. - Rangers Pre-Game Show
7:00 p.m. - Rangers at Sabres
Broadcasters: Don LaGreca (Play-By-Play), Pete Stemkowski (Analyst)
RANGERS vs. SABRES:
* All-Time: 57-71-25-5 overall (33-27-15-3 at home; 24-44-10-2 on the road)
* 2011-12: Tonight is the first of four meetings this season, and the first of two at First Niagara Center.
* Last Season: New York was 2-2-0 overall, including a 1-1-0 mark on the road. Three of the four contests were decided by one goal, including a 3-2 overtime win on Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden. Artem Anisimov led the Rangers with four points (three goals, one assist) in four games, while Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi tied for the team-high with three assists apiece in the season series. Henrik Lundqvist posted a record of 1-2-0 with a 2.37 GAA and .928 Sv% in three games, and Martin Biron was 1-0-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .935 Sv% in one contest.
* Derek Stepan recorded a hat trick while making his NHL debut in their 6-3 season-opening win on Oct. 9, tying the franchise record for goals in a season opener and becoming the fourth player in NHL history and first Ranger to register a hat trick in his NHL debut
* Six of the last eight meetings between the Rangers and Sabres have been decided by one goal
* New York ranks ninth with an 8-4-2 (18 pts) record on the road; Buffalo ranks 24th with a 6-8-2 (14 pts) mark at home
* The Rangers have posted a 2-3-1 record vs. Northeast Division opponents; the Sabres are 1-3-1 vs. the Atlantic Division
* Henrik Lundqvist has posted an 8-8-2 record with a 2.44 GAA in 18 career regular season games vs. Buffalo; Martin Biron is 8-3-0-1 with a 2.82 GAA and two shutouts in 13 career regular season games vs. the Sabres
* Brad Richards leads the Rangers with 18 assists and 27 points in 30 career regular season games vs. Buffalo; Ruslan Fedotenko has notched a team-high, 10 goals in 36 career regular season contests vs. the Sabres
* New York lists one former Sabre on their roster: Martin Biron (1995-96 - 2006-07)
* Buffalo lists no former Rangers on their roster
* Power Play: The Rangers tallied one goal in six power play opportunities (11:16) on Thursday vs. Tampa Bay, and are 7-30 (23.3%) in their last seven games. New York ranks 21st overall (16-104, 15.4%) and 28th on the road (5-51, 9.8%). The Rangers are 2-10 (7:37) in five-on-three situations (last – 12/05 vs. TOR), and 0-4 (3:46) when four-on-three (last – 11/3 vs. ANA). Shorthanded goals allowed (2): 12/5 vs. TOR (Steckel); 12/8 vs. TBL (Moore).
* Penalty Killing: The Blueshirts held the Lightning scoreless and notched one shorthanded goal in four shorthanded situations (6:41) on Thursday at MSG. New York ranks ninth overall (81-95, 85.3%) and is tied for 15th on the road (50-60, 83.3%). The Rangers are 4-5 (2:35) in three-on-five situations (last – 12/8 vs. TBL), and 0-1 (1:17) when three-on-four (last – 10/7 at LAK). Shorthanded goals for (2): 10/20 at CGY (Prust); 12/8 vs. TBL (Anisimov).
* Four-on-Four: New York did not tally/yield a goal in two four-on-four situations (7:00) on Thursday vs. Tampa Bay. The Rangers are plus-three in 31 four-on-four situations (56:54), and even in one three-on-three situation (0:01). Four-on-four goals for (3): 10/18 at VAN (Gaborik); 10/20 at CGY (McDonagh); 10/27 vs. TOR (Girardi). Four-on-four goals allowed (0).
The Rangers are scheduled to play 14 back-to-back sets this season. New York has posted a record of 2-0-1 (1-0-0 at home, 1-0-1 on the road) in the first game of the set, and are 2-0-1 (2-0-0 at home, 0-0-1 on the road) in the second game. Since 2009-10, New York is 23-8-3 in the second game of back-to-back sets, with an 11-3-1 mark at MSG and 12-5-2 on the road over the span. Henrik Lundqvist has started on consecutive days 56 times in his career, posting a record of 35-14-7 with a 1.82 GAA, .935 Sv% and six shutouts in the second game. The Rangers fourth back-to-back set will begin tonight at Buffalo, and concludes tomorrow vs. Florida at MSG.
The Blueshirts' 34 points through 25 games (15-6-4) is their best start to the season since the team posted a 16-7-2 (34 pts) mark through 25 in 2008-09, and is only two points shy of the 1993-94 Stanley Cup Championship team's 36 points in 25 games (17-6-2).
THE PUCK STOPS HERE
The Blueshirts are tied for the league lead in fewest goals against, allowing 55 goals through 25 games, and rank fourth with a 2.20 GAA. Henrik Lundqvist is 11-5-4 with a 2.13 GAA, .931 Sv% and two shutouts, while Martin Biron is 4-1-0 with a 1.94 GAA, .930 Sv% and one shutout. Lundqvist is tied for sixth in the NHL in Sv% and shutouts, 10th in wins and ranks ninth in GAA.
IN THE BLACK
The Blueshirts are tied for fourth in the NHL with a plus-15 rating while skating at even strength. 22 of the 27 players who have skated for the Rangers this season have posted a plus or even rating. In the league standings, New York ranks sixth with a plus-15 goal differential.
A BROADWAY HIT
The Rangers rank fourth in the league with 671 hits, including 372 hits on the road to rank third in the NHL. Ryan Callahan is tied for fourth in the NHL with 87 hits, while Dan Girardi is tied for eighth among league defensemen with 70 hits.
COUNTDOWN TO 2,500 WINS
The Rangers are currently one win shy of 2,500 wins, having won 2,499 games all-time in franchise history.
* The Rangers have the fewest regulation losses (six) in the NHL
* New York has registered a point in 14 of their last 17 games (12-3-2), and have out-scored their opponent, 57-40, during the stretch
* The Blueshirts are 7-30 (23.3%) on the power play in their last seven contests, and have posted a record of 10-1-2 in games when tallying a power play goal
* New York is 4-1-1 when leading after the first period and 9-0-2 when leading after the second (5-0-0 mark when leading after two on the road)
* The Blueshirts lead the league with an .889 win% when out-shooting their opponent (8-1-0)
* The Rangers are 7-0-0 all-time in games when Brandon Prust is assessed a fighting major in the opening two minutes
* The Blueshirts rank second in the NHL when scoring first, posting an 11-1-1 mark (.846 win%) in those contests, and their 11 wins are tied for fifth in the league
* Henrik Lundqvist is 9-2-1 with a 1.98 GAA, .933 Sv% and one shutout in his last 12 games
* Brad Richards enters the contest with a team season-high, seven-game point streak (four goals, seven assists over the span), and has tallied 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in the last 17 games
* Derek Stepan enters the contest with a four-game assist/point streak (one goal, four assists over the span), and has tallied 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in the last 17 contests
* Artem Anisimov enters the contest with a four-game point streak (three goals, two assists over the span), and has tallied 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in the last 14 games
* Marian Gaborik has tallied 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in the last 18 games, with five points (three goals, two assists) in the last five
* Ryan Callahan has tallied 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in the last 17 games, with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the last seven
* Michael Del Zotto has tallied five assists in the last six games
* Ryan McDonagh has tallied six points (one goal, five assists) in the last eight games
* Rangers' prospects Christian Thomas (Canada) and J.T. Miller (USA) have been invited to participate in their respective National Junior Team's selection camp for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship
MILESTONES IN SIGHT:
* Marian Gaborik: 3 assists from 300th NHL career; 4 goals from 300th NHL career; 7 points from 600th NHL career
* Dan Girardi: 4 assists from 100th NHL career
* Brad Richards: 3 games from 800th NHL career
* Michael Sauer: 2 games from 100th NHL career
* Marc Staal (concussion, IR on 10/5) - 25
* Mike Rupp (knee, 10/24) - 18
* Wojtek Wolski (groin, 11/3) - 14
* Michael Sauer (concussion, 12/5) - 1
Total Man-Games Lost: 67
* Dec. 1 - Assigned forward Andre Deveaux to Connecticut (AHL)