Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lack of Discipline Hurts Rangers In Loss At Buffalo

Over the past seven seasons in which the Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs, undisciplined play was a common problem for those teams. In their 3-1 loss to Buffalo at HSBC Arena Saturday night, that same theme reared its ugly head.

Taking full advantage of some untimely New York penalties, Buffalo (6-2-0) was two-for-eight on the power play and scored the other goal directly after another man-advantage expired.

It proved too much for rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist to overcome. Back in goal after coach Tom Renney indicated to the press Friday that he brought back Kevin Weekes too soon from a groin injury, Lundqvist was under siege against a superior Sabres attack. Though he played well in limiting the damage to three goals on 31 shots, he got charged with his first regulation defeat in six starts.

In their fourth contest in six nights, the Rangers were outshot in the early going 8-1. None of that mattered when Jaromir Jagr forced a Buffalo turnover, creating a two-on-one and setup Michael Nylander for the game's opening goal 13:04 in. It was Nylander's second of the season from Jagr and Darius Kasparaitis.

But they couldn't increase the lead, failing on one of their five power plays shortly after. With only 12 seconds left in the first period, Ville Nieminen took a lazy holding the stick penalty. Already his second minor of the game, it proved costly in the second.

Off a rush, Buffalo leading scorer Daniel Briere beat Lundqvist with a nifty backhand five-hole just 44 seconds into the second to tie the game at one. His seventh of the season was assisted by Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen.

Another penalty contributed to the Sabres' second goal of the night. With rookie Maxim Kondratiev in the box for kneeing, Buffalo worked the puck around, forcing Lundqvist to make a few difficult saves. Though the Rangers killed it off, Buffalo kept the puck in and worked the puck around to setup a go-ahead tally. With an exhausted Blueshirt unit scrambling, Thomas Vanek fed Rory Fitzpatrick all alone in the slot. Fitzpatrick's centering pass for J.P. Dumont surprised Lundqvist through the wickets at 8:48 for a 2-1 lead. Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov notched assists. Buffalo took the lead to the locker room.

After the Rangers killed off Nieminen's third minor of the game, they had two power play opportunities to tie it including a 47-second two-man advantage. But in a period where they failed to convert three of five on a powerless night, luck wasn't on their side. Steve Rucchin came the closest when his shanked shot from the slot trickled off the right post.

Their luck continued to be bad when Jason Ward appeared to beat rookie Ryan Miller on a backhand from the side of the net that went off Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman with 8:10 remaining. However, before Ward and his teammates could celebrate, referee Don Van Massenhoven blew the play dead, thinking that Miller had it.

"Looking at the video and listening to the audio, I'd have to say it's a goal, but it's not for me to judge," Renney said to reporters afterwards.

Buffalo finally put the contest out of reach when the Rangers shot themselves in the foot again. With Jagr and Michal Rozsival taking penalties 20 seconds apart, it gave the Sabres a five-on-three to work with. Numminen setup Ales Kotalik for a one-time blast by Lundqvist making it 3-1 with 3:32 left.

"We beat ourselves," said an unhappy Renney. "We got in trouble with some very silly penalties from people who you'd think wouldn't."

It summed up a lost night for the Rangers (4-3-3), who dropped their second consecutive game in regulation and ran their losing streak to three. They have four days to fix things before meeting the Islanders for the third time in nine days Thursday at The Garden.

Notes: Tom Poti was a healthy scratch for the second time this season with Jason Strudwick replacing him in the lineup....With an assist, Jagr extended his point streak to seven games (8-3-11)....The Sabres 6-2-0 start is their best since it won eight in a row to start the '75-76 season....Miller (22 saves) is one win short of becoming the first rookie goalie to win seven games in October since Ed Belfour accomplished the feat with Chicago (1990).


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