The Rangers haven’t always played their best while protecting a lead, but it’s an aspect of their game that must improve as they garner more experience doing so.
Carrying a 3-2 lead into the third period Tuesday night, the Blueshirts held the Sabres to just five shots, albeit recording just three shots on net themselves in the final 30:28. Defenseman Adam Fox said he believes the Rangers have played a lot smarter than they did earlier in the season, particularly when they have a lead heading into the third.
Fox said he considers that to be a sign of growth, taking into account how many times they fell apart in the final 20 minutes earlier this season.
“I think we didn’t cheat, we didn’t give them a lot of grade-A’s and limited their chances,” Fox said following the win Tuesday. “We definitely improved, a lot better in holding the lead this game than we had earlier in the year.”
Coach David Quinn said he felt the Rangers understood “what we were dealing with going into the third period” and managed the game accordingly. He said he felt his players did what was necessary to give the team a chance to win.
After picking up victories over the Capitals and Bruins, and a shootout win against the Flyers, the Rangers knew they couldn’t play down to the last-place Sabres — who trail the Devils by one point and the Blueshirts by four.
“You win four of six and you feel pretty good about yourself, but we know we have to play better in two nights in order to give ourselves a chance to win,” Quinn said. “Good teams find ways to win when they’re not on their A-game and we found a way to win when we weren’t on our A-game.”
After fending off the Sabres’ lone power play, which included limiting them to just two shots on goal, the Rangers have not allowed a man-advantage tally in 11 of their 13 games. They are now 42-of-45 for a 93.3 penalty kill percentage, which includes going 20-for-22 (90.9 percent) in five of the last six games.
The Rangers have held their opponent to only 58 shots on goal during 49 power play opportunities over the last 14 games. The team’s penalty kill units have been particularly stellar at home. They have fought off 38-of-42, which includes going 27-of-28 in the past 10 games at MSG (a 96.4 penalty kill percentage).
With 22 saves Tuesday to earn his fifth win of the season, Igor Shesterkin now has 15 wins as a rookie, tying John Vanbiesbrouck for the 10th-most career wins by a rookie netminder in Rangers history.
“In the first period, it wasn’t a great thing that the first shot went in,” Shesterkin said. “But guys rallied and helped me out and we took care of business the rest of the game.”