It’s been a little bit of a sluggish start to the NHL season for my picks so far as we sit behind the .500 mark and in negative territory on the season, although not by much.
We’ve been unable to get hot in the early going, but there’s plenty of hockey to be played and the evaluation process in this unique, condensed season is ongoing.
We have a monster 13-game schedule on tap Tuesday night, so let’s get into it with the Rangers vs. Sabres in an East Division matchup from Buffalo!
- Season Record: 6-8
- Units: -2.65
Rangers vs. Sabres Betting Odds
- Rangers (-107)
- Sabres (-103)
- Rangers +1.5 (-268)
- Sabres -1.5 (+228)
- Over 6 (-108)
- Under 6 (-102)
Rangers vs. Sabres NHL Pick Breakdown
If there was anything we could have hung our hat on when it came to this Rangers team this season, it was their offense. After all, it’s largely the same personnel that ranked fifth in overall offense last season and added 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to the mix.
However, both the group and the rookie have struggled.
The Rangers have averaged just 2.60 goals per game so far this season to place them 24th in the league and their power play — ranked seventh last season — sits 21st with a 17.4% clip in the early going.
It appears this group as more or less deserved its output so far this season. At 5v5, they rank 16th in scoring chances for/60, although 10th in high-danger chances for/60 and ninth in expected goals for/60, as per Natural Stat Trick. Their 2.30 goals per/60 this season is nearly identical to their expected mark, so again, the team has pretty much deserved its offensive fate to this point.
For his part, Lafreniere is pointless through the first five games of his NHL career and fellow youngster Filip Chytil — with two goals and three points in five games — is out four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury.
The fact that Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have combined for just two goals and three points so far this season is a problem on that top line and top power play unit. These are two proven producers, however, and one would expect an offensive outburst from these veterans along with Lafreniere who notched 112 points in the QMJHL a season ago.
Defense was an area of concern last season, although it was to be expected. This is a young Rangers blueline that continues to develop and is certainly going to take their lumps again this season in what is the deepest division in the league.
That said, it’s been a strong point in the early going. The Rangers rank 13th in overall defense despite a penalty kill that ranks 21st. At 5v5, they rank 13th in scoring chances against/60, 14th in high-danger chances against/60 and 19th in expected goals against/60. Like with their offense, the defense has more or less been deserving of their surface numbers in the early going.
It’s not a bad start considering the youth up and down the team’s top-six on the blueline. Five of the projected six Rangers defenders for this evening are 26 years of age or under and three are 22 or under. K’Andre Miller is a 21-year-old rookie, Adam Fox is a 22-year-old sophomore, as is Ryan Lindgren with 70 NHL games under his belt so far.
This league is tough on young defensemen but this Rangers group has seemingly made strides after sporting advanced metrics with the worst of em’ a season ago.
The Rangers Russian goaltending tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev bring plenty of hope for the future, but both have had their struggles early on.
Shesterkin owns a 2.98 GAA and .886 Sv% in three starts (four appearances) on the heels of a 12-game audition that saw him turn in a 2.52 GAA and .932 Sv% last season.
Georgiev has been the better of the two and actually posted a shutout in his first start of the season against the Islanders, however he’ll enter this one coming off a tough effort in which he allowed four goals on just 20 shots in a loss to the Devils a week back.
After Shesterkin struggle his last time out, head coach David Quinn is going back to Georgiev as the timeshare continues in search of the hot hand between the pipes.
Shesterkin is viewed as the superior option, but the 24-year-old Georgiev has showed flashes of No. 1 potential and is by far the more experienced NHL goaltender at this point. Across 79 career appearances, Georgiev owns a 2.99 GAA but also a decent .913 Sv%. The elevated GAA stems from the back he has seen a ton of shots in his young career, but the Rangers have done well to improve in that department, ranking sixth with 26.2 shots against per game this season as opposed to 30th at 34 per game last season.
We’ll see if a bounce back effort is in the cards tonight.
The Sabres have largely toiled around the middle of the pack or worse on offense over the last few seasons, and through six games this season not much has changed.
Buffalo ranks 18th with 2.83 goals per game on the season, but also 10th with a 27.3% clip on the power play in the early going.
At 5v5, they rank 22nd in scoring chances for/60, 12th in high-danger chances for/60 and 16th in expected goals for/60. Their 2.1 expected goals for/60 is almost identical to their 1.98 goals for/60 at 5v5, so it appears the Sabres have pretty much deserved their offensive fate at even strength in the early going.
I would suspect they would want more, however. After all, they added Taylor Hall in the offseason and need to show more to keep him around beyond the one-year deal he signed for this season. Rookie general manager Kevyn Adams also solidified his center ice depth with Eric Staal and Cody Eakin while rookie Dylan Cozens has made his way into the everyday lineup as well.
The result have been mediocre to this point, and we’ll see if they’re able to take advantage of a young Rangers defense corps in this one.
On the surface, the Sabres’ defense has also been a middle-of-the-pack group as they sit 16th while allowing an even three goals per game. Underneath the hood, however, they’ve been flat-out elite.
At 5v5, the Sabres rank second in scoring chances against/60, third in high-danger chances against/60 and first in expected goals against/60. There is a notable spread between the 2.57 5v5 goals they’ve allowed per 60 minutes this season and their 1.54 expected mark.
However, their penalty kill has been so bad that much of that work has been for naught. The Sabres will enter this one sporting a 66.7% rate on the kill so far, good for a three-way tie for 26th. You could expect regression there, and you’d likely be right, but keep in mind this was also the league’s 30th-ranked group last season at just 74.6%.
The Rangers’ power play has been so-so in the early stages of the season, but if the Sabres aren’t going to kill penalties any better than they have over the last season and change, they would be wise to stay out of the box against a power play group sporting plenty of firepower.
One lineup note on the back end surrounds youngster Henri Jokiharju who didn’t skate this morning and is listed as day-to-day with a minor injury. Otherwise, all systems appear to be a go for a back end that’s done so yeoman’s work at even strength this season.
Like they did last season, the Sabres are rolling with a Linus Ullmark/Carter Hutton tandem in goal, but expect Ullmark to get the heavy end of a 60/40 split in goal this season as he’s the confirmed puckstopper for this one tonight.
Both netminders have put in similar work so far this season. Hutton owns a 2.65 GAA and .899 Sv% in three starts while Ullmark has been slightly better in posting a 2.55 GAA and .905 Sv% in his three outings.
It’s the second consecutive nod for Ullmark tonight, however, as he earned the shootout win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday, making 28 saves on 31 shots before stopping all three Washington shootout attempts to boot.
He sure hasn’t had his way with this Rangers team, however, working to a ghastly 4.04 GAA and .846 Sv% in two outings against the blueshirts for his career. It’s a tiny sample, but he’s allowed six goals on 39 shots to the Rangers, albeit he did not face them at all last season.
We’ll see if he can improve that fortune in his first start this season against a team not named the Washington Capitals.
Rangers vs. Sabres NHL Pick
I was shocked to see the advanced metrics put forth by the Sabres defense at 5v5 this season. Despite the small sample, those are some impressive figures to be sure.
That said, this is a Rangers offense ready to explode. Artemi Panarin already has six points, but the Rangers’ big boys have largely scuffled to begin the season and it’s only a matter of time before they break out, especially if the Sabres get into any sort of penalty trouble in this one.
I expect big nights from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, to name a couple. We can also throw Lafreniere into that mix as he’s certainly not off to an ideal start. That trio projects to skate as the team’s top line tonight, and the flood gates could open if they get on the board early.
I respect the Sabres’ solid defensive work in the early going, but I’m backing the Rangers offense here as they should be able to break out on the moneyline.