The Rangers have had a gusty wind soaring through their sails for weeks, but the Sabres slowed them down Monday night before another injury to a key player threatened the team’s buoyancy.
A 5-1 loss to a feisty Buffalo team — just their fourth defeat in regulation this season — was hardly of concern in a game in which the Blueshirts lost Kaapo Kakko in the second period following an ugly and awkward fall on his left leg.
It was clear it wasn’t the Rangers’ night from puck drop, but the apparent severity of Kakko’s injury only appeared to lengthen the club’s journey toward the end of their near month-long injury battle.
Kakko exited late in the middle frame after a collision with Buffalo defenseman Erik Johnson swept his legs out from underneath him along the boards.
The Finnish wing immediately grabbed at his left knee and squirmed on the ice in apparent pain.Rangers center Vincent Trocheck and a trainer help New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko off the ice during the second period. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Replay on the MSG jumbotron drew an audible queasy reaction from the crowd.
When he was brought to his skates and helped off the ice, Kakko couldn’t put any weight on his left leg.
This is just the latest injury in a month that has severely tested the Rangers’ depth.
The Rangers lost both Adam Fox and Filip Chytil in the Nov. 2 game against the Hurricanes and have been without them ever since.
Just as the Rangers appeared out of the woods with Fox, who skated as a full participant in the Rangers’ morning skate on Monday and is eligible to come off long-term injured reserve on Wednesday against the Red Wings, another injury arose.
On the other hand, Chytil has only just resumed skating on his own since landing on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
The Rangers were also briefly without both their top goalies, Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick, which forced the club to turn to Louis Domingue and Dylan Garand for a game.
Shesterkin was sidelined in four straight contests this month with what the Rangers described as “minor soreness.”Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin fails to make a save allowing Buffalo Sabres right wing Alex Tuch to score a goal during the second period. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Despite their first significant stretch of injuries in a few years, the Rangers haven’t missed a beat and have gone 7-2-1 without their No. 1 defenseman and second-line center — including Monday night’s loss.
The Rangers didn’t have the sharpest first 40 minutes of play, over which they struggled to cleanly break out of their zone and transition up the ice.
It was clear the Sabres had an edge to their game after getting blown out, 7-2, by the Devils two days earlier.Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin #31 fails to make a save allowing Buffalo Sabres right wing Alex Tuch #89 to score a goal during the second period. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Despite the early Buffalo control, the Rangers earned the first power play and nearly capitalized when Blake Wheeler jammed in a loose puck from in front at the tail end of the two-minute stretch with the man-advantage.
The refs immediately waved it off, however, curiously citing a hand pass after the puck bounced off Will Cuylle’s elbow. Hand-pass calls are actually reviewable, but there was no call made to Toronto.
So the first goal of the game belonged to Sabres forward JJ Peterka, who ripped a top-shelf shot on Shesterkin after a Rangers turnover in the D-zone. Alex Tuch doubled the Sabres’ score in the second period after cleaning up a rebound.
The Rangers hit a stride in the third period and managed to get on the board during their third power play of the game.
Mika Zibanejad’s bullet one-timer from the circle cut the Sabres’ lead 2-1, but the equalizer never came before Tuch netted his second of the game to put it out of reach.