Sabres-Rangers: A Battle for the East

Sean MartinContributor IJanuary 7, 2009

While it is only the halfway mark of the NHL season, tonight's NHL game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers will be a sign of things to come later this year.

Even though the Rangers are six points ahead of the Sabres in the standings, it really doesn't define how the teams have played in recent games.

On Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-2 in a more convincing fashion then the score insinuates.  This was Buffalo's third-straight victory against a division rival, which included a 4-2 win against the powerhouse Boston Bruins. The three victories make the Sabres undefeated since the new year began.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have been singing a different tune. While they were winning games left and right since the season began, they are now losing to teams that should have no chance of winning in Madison Square Garden.

On Wednesday night, the Montreal Canadians came to the Big Apple and embarrassed the Rangers on home ice with a 6-3 victory. On Jan. 3, the Washington Capitals defeated the Rangers 2-1 after a 5-4 overtime victory against the team on Dec. 23, arguably one of the toughest losses for the Rangers in 2008.

If these streaks for both teams continue, the Rangers will quickly find themselves struggling to even make the playoffs—while the Sabres might be able to land the fourth seed in the playoffs if they can stay disciplined.

A win for the Sabres will mean that the series between the two teams will even up at one-a-piece, with two points entering Buffalo's column. This would be a detrimental setback for the Rangers as the large lead they once had narrow even further.

If the egos in New York's dressing room do not begin to focus on one goal as a team instead of the typical "out there for myself" attitude that is constantly seen in their team, they might as well surrender now and get the golf clubs out. Early season golfing begins in May and June.

Buffalo, however, cannot afford to slack their efforts. With a less than stellar season to this point, every point counts. If they can put themselves into a winning groove in January, the team can find themselves competing for rock-solid playoff spots, not seventh or eighth-seeded positions that are won by having the most overtime losses.

For both teams, one thing can be said prior to game time—a serious playoff team needs to win games before the final buzzer.

Otherwise, NHL fans are going to find them a waste of time.