BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Chris Kreider scored power-play and short-handed goals, Igor Shesterkin stopped 23 shots for his 100th career victory and the New York Rangers beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 in their season opener Thursday night.
The Rangers won in Peter Laviolette’s debut as coach. In doing so, New York showed, for one game at least, it’s capable of playing a more defensively responsible style following a first-round seven-game playoff exit to New Jersey that led to Gerard Gallant’s dismissal.
“They put a lot into it and they worked really hard,” Laviolette said about Rangers adapting to a newly introduced defensive system installed during training camp. “We called it before the game in saying to take it for a test drive. It’s one game. But there were positives to pull from that.”
He specifically praised his penalty killing unit - calling it “absolutely courageous” - for putting on a shot-blocking clinic in negating Buffalo’s three power-play chances.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and assist, and Alexis Lafreniere and Jacob Trouba, with an empty-netter, also scored scored in an outing New York raced to a 3-0 second-period lead. Mika Zibanejad had three assists.
Shesterkin, appearing in his 159th career game, became the Rangers first goalie to reach 100 wins in fewer than 187 outings. Adam Fox had an assist for his 200th career point in his 285th game. Only five NHL defenseman - led by Quinn Hughes (263 games) - have reached the milestone in fewer outings.
JJ Peterka scored for Buffalo, which came out inexplicably flat for a young, talent-laden team that spent training camp vowing to embrace the high expectations of being ready to snap an NHL-worst 12-season playoff drought.
Rookie Devon Levi stopped 25 shots in becoming the Sabres’ youngest goalie to start a season opener since Mika Noronen (21 years, 110 days) in 2000. Levi, a little over a month shy of turning 22, was awarded the starting duties after he signed with the Sabres in March following his sophomore season at Northeastern. He closed with a 5-2 record, including two wins over the Rangers.
Coach Don Granato said Buffalo had difficulty dealing with the Rangers’ defensive 1-3-1 style that clogged up the middle of the offensive zone, causing his players to hesitate in getting pucks on net.
“Our biggest challenge was not pulling the trigger,” Granato said, in noting how Peterka’s goal came after Owen Power’s initial shot was blocked. “We didn’t do that enough tonight. That was probably the biggest contributor to our demise.”
The Rangers’ attention to defensive detail was evident in limiting the speedy Sabres to 12 shots through two periods. And New York penalty killers flexed their defensive might by blocking four shots through the opening 90 seconds of the third period to preserve a 3-1 lead.
New York was credited with 23 blocks shots with a team-high eight from Trouba.
“I think it’s fun, honestly. A lot of guys get excited about it,” Trouba said. “Not everybody can score all the big goals. You got to contribute however you can, whether it’s a hit, block shots, like it takes a lot to win games.”
Kreider put the Rangers ahead 2-0 by tipping in Fox’s shot from the right circle 12:22 into the game. He then sealed the win in a penalty-killing role by tapping in Mika Zibanejad’s centering pass with 8:26 remaining.
The loss came with Buffalo debuting its new $146.45 million defensive duo of Power and Rasmus Dahlin. Dahlin was signed to an eight-year $88 million contract extension Monday, followed by Owen Power, who signed a seven-year, $58.45 million extension Wednesday.
Rangers: At the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night as part of a season-opening schedule that has New York playing seven of its first nine on the road.
Sabres: At the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
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