If you’re wondering which team will win the Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers on New Year’s Day at Citi Field, listen to Robin Lehner’s conspiracy theory.
Lehner, the No. 1 goaltender for the downtrodden Sabres, insisted the NHL picks sides with the critical video reviews made in its Toronto war room.
After his team suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders — no thanks to the Isles getting a last-minute goal via a review — Lehner said the league “predetermined” the outcome.
“I know Toronto already made up [its] mind it was a goal before they shot the puck. It’s just how it works in this league,” Lehner told reporters after the NHL ruled that he made a glove save behind the goal line. “Everything is predetermined against us. It’s not to be sulking or anything. We’re not where we want to be or anything like that. It’s just how it is. The Islanders are in a playoff spot, and you know, it is what it is.”
Lehner noted a similar occurrence back on November 26. The Sabres lost a goal against Montreal when a review detected goaltender interference by Sam Reinhart against Canadiens netminder Carey Price.
“You know, we played in Montreal, and Price is having a shutout. We score a good goal, and the league took it away,” Lehner said. “It’s just how the league works.”
With the Winter Classic on the big New York City stage, the league wouldn’t mind a successful Rangers showing. Just saying.
Why New York Will Win the Winter Classic
Lehner offers food for thought. But regardless of their standing as one of the NHL’s marquee franchises, the Rangers would naturally be clearly favored over the Sabres,
Buffalo has won just 10 of its first 38 games this season as its perpetual rebuild continues under new head coach Phil Housley.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have been a different team since goaltender Henrik Lundqvist went on a 15-5-2 tear, posting a 2.41 goals-against average and 0.929 save percentage during that span.
Why Buffalo Will Win the Winter Classic
Top center Jack Eichel has warmed up. After scoring just seven points in 13 November games, he scored 16 in his next 13 contests — including 11 during a recent six-game span.
Housley is playing him with Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons these days, pulling winger Evander Kane away to balance Buffalo’s attack.
“I think there’s a lot of guys in that same boat but Jack, he’s been playing a lot of great hockey and it’s showing,” Housley told reporters after the Sabres earned a 4-3 overtime victory at New Jersey. “Tonight was another great example of it.”
Also, Rangers power forward Chris Kreider will sidelined indefinitely after a blood clot caused swelling in his arm. Kreider led the Rangers with 28 goals last season and he has 11 goals and 11 assists in 37 games this season.
Vinni Lettieri arrived from the AHL and scored in his first NHL game as a fill-in, but Kreider’s presence in front of the Rangers net will be missed.
Winter Classic Prediction
Overall, the Rangers have been rolling after a dreadful October start. They opened the season 1-5-2 and were just 3-7-2 before reversing course with a 16-6-2 surge.
They head into the Winter Classic following a 3-2 shootout loss to Detroit, but they should be energized by all the outdoor game hoopla. “I think everyone is excited,” Rangers winger Rick Nash told reporters in Detroit “The next few days are going to be fun.”
Winter Classic pick: Rangers 4, Sabres 2.