Bruins-Sabres preview: Revenge served cold

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Bruins-Sabres preview: Revenge served cold

BUFFALO Revenge takes many different forms, and for the Bruins it will most likely take the form of two points at the end of Sunday night. If the Sabres mess with them as they did in their first home game in Boston a couple of weeks ago then the Bruins shouldnt show any hesitation in striking back.

But the Sabres are rounding out the bottom of the division despite holding the most games played of any team in the Northeast Division, and they should be coming into the game with a different kind of energy as this is their third game in the last four nights. Meanwhile, the Bruins have regained their defensive groove while allowing just a single goal in the last 120 minutes of hockey against the Maple Leafs and Canadiens.

The Bruins simply want to keep that string of quality playing moving while getting strong rebound games from players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, who were scorched by Thomas Vanek for a hat trick the last time these two teams squared off. Vanek leads the NHL with 11 goals and 23 points scored this season, and has certainly caught the attention of the Bruins players and coaching staff.

We were much better, obviously, said Claude Julien. I think it was a little bit of a breakdown in our system and it happened to be against Buffalo. When you give that kind of team that kind of space and opportunities, theyre going to put the puck in the net.

Theres no doubt were going to focus on being better in our game without the puck tonight against the Sabres. Ryan Miller played well the last time out, but we still scored four goals against him. For us thats usually good enough for a win. We left our goalie hanging on a lot of our breakdowns. We hope to continue the offensive trend against them, but we need to tighten up defensively.

Its expected that Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton will both return to the lineup. What isnt expected is that anybody is going to bother with Sabres enforcer John Scott this time around, though that could change if the 6-foot-8 forward takes liberties with Bruins players as he did the last time.

Instead the focus will be on banking points, and the Bruins will store away the memories of their bitter home loss to the Sabres for payment at a later date with another game in Buffalo scheduled five days from now

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Dougie Hamilton has a single shot on net in his last two games, and the win over the Montreal was the first game this season where the rookie has been shut out without a single shot on net. Hamilton has also dropped to a minus-1 rating on the season in nine games and seems to be taking fewer chances offensively like he did in the first handful of games this season. Its too early to tell if its due to game circumstances or Hamilton is experiencing a simple rookie lull, so keep an eye on the 19-year-old in Sunday nights game against Buffalo.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Were aware that they have some great players offensively. Thats what they want: the 2-on-1s and the odd-man rushes. We know their D-men have good skill and move up the ice very well. We just need to be aware of that and just play our game. We didnt do that against them the first time. Patrice Bergeron, among the Bruins defensive players hearing the clarion call to improve their game against the Sabres on Sunday night.

KEY MATCHUP: It all comes down to Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk finding a way to neutralize Thomas Vanek after the Buffalo forward has blown up this season. He leads the NHL with 11 goals and 23 points in 11 games for the Sabres and torched the Bruins for a hat trick two weeks ago in Boston. Chara finished with a minus-3 and zero registered hits while he was chasing skaters and pucks all over the defensive zone. Vaneks career numbers (28 goals and 54 points in 46 career games) against Boston are off the charts, and Chara needs to prove he can be the Big Eraser against Buffalo on Sunday night.

STAT TO WATCH: 170 . . . That's the number of NHL coaching changes since Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff was named head of the Sabres in 1997.

INJURIES: Shawn Thornton (concussion), Dan Paille (eye) and Brad Marchand (shoulder) are all potentially available for the Bruins. Paille and Thornton both looked like they might be returning to the lineup based on morning skate, and Marchand might be sitting for the second straight game. Claude Julien termed all three game-time decisions.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask had only 20 saves against the Montreal Canadiens in a win Wednesday night, but his first period performance was the difference between a win and a loss. Anton Khudobin was the first goaltender off the ice for the Bruins during morning after starting one goal in the first three weeks of the season, and Claude Julien said it be either goalie that gets the start. Ryan Miller will get the call for the Sabres after also playing in last nights 3-2 win over the New York Islanders, and has been okay with a 3.07 goals against average and .909 save percentage. It might be challenging for Miller to bounce back while playing his third game in the last four days, but he has won two games in a row.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL. 

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

BOSTON – Many times this season Tuukka Rask has bailed out the Bruins when the team was at less than their best.

Monday afternoon was not one of those times as the Bruins goaltender was knocked out of the game after two periods on the way to a listless 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders. Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game’s opening 40 minutes, and was responsible for a very soft goal during the Isles’ three-score barrage in the second period.

After the game Rask wasn’t ducking responsibility for the subpar performance, and admitted he was simply beaten to the short side post on a bad angle shot from Islanders forward Josh Bailey for the soft-serve special.

“I was just late. I picked the wrong seal. It’s one of those [goals] that I should have stopped,” said Rask. “Claude [Julien] mentioned [not taking the Isles lightly] before the game, and the last game we played here they got us. It was a bit of a flat game again last time, and we just woke up too late today. We didn’t want to underestimate them. Any team in this league is good even though the standings might show otherwise. We just never got it going.”

Rask was being kind because the Bruins never actually woke up at all in the first B's shutout loss to the Islanders on home ice in franchise history, and that includes when the Finnish netminder was yanked after the second intermission.

Julien’s act of pulling Rask from a 3-0 game was clearly designed to spark the struggling hockey club, but it did nothing to breathe life into a dead hockey club that simply allowed another goal playing out the string in the third period.

“There are two things that can happen. No. 1, you hope you can spark your team because of the performance in front of him,” said Julien. “If it doesn’t spark your team, [at least] you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

One would expect that Rask will be back between the pipes on Wednesday night against the Red Wings in Detroit, and in hindsight perhaps this Monday matinee might have been a good time to see what Zane McIntyre has to offer as the backup. Instead it will go down as an “off” game for Rask and another inexcusable no-show on home ice for the Black and Gold.