Sabres reveal themselves to be 'gutless'

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Sabres reveal themselves to be 'gutless'

I am sure the parade in Buffalo to celebrate the Sabres 7-4 win over the Bruins will be quite an event. I know all those January 31st 2013 Regular Season Champions shirts and hats will sell out faster than NoGoal.com bumper stickers. And while the banner raising ceremony will bring more than a tear to perpetually weepy Sabres owner Terry Pegulas eyes, it doesnt change a thing. Last night actually confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sabres are still a flawed, gutless team and that all their moves to respond to last years incident are Band-Aids that will hurt them in the long run.

Yes the Sabres did win last nights game by a very convincing margin. Thomas Vanek might as well be ethereal as far as the Bruins defense is concerned. Offensively, he seems to do whatever he wants against the Bruins, and that was the case yet again last night, as he turned in a 3-goal, 5-point performance that was the driving force behind the Sabres win. In the other major storyline, John Scott lived up to his billing as the toughest man on two (unsteady) skates, as he pounded the brave, but overmatched, Shawn Thornton to the ice in short order.

I had said going into this game that anyone who agrees to fight Scott is foolish, because by doing so, you're making someone who gets three minutes of ice time a night because he is a marginal hockey player (marginal is being very generous) relevant. Bluntly, Scott is Goons Doug Glatt, minus the skating ability. If I was Thornton I would have told Scott to go push his milk crate and skate a shift. But I am not Shawn Thornton nor do I think I ever could be. Because Thornton did the same selfless work hes done countless times during his Bruins career. He did it in spite of the probable outcome and personal risk, and by doing so he demonstrated the fundamental difference between the two teams.

Thornton knew he was probably going to get pounded, probably knew it weeks in advance, but he still hopped over the boards, accepted Scotts challenge and took a beating for his team. Why? Because even though there is no 'C' or 'A' on his jersey, Thornton knows hes a leader in that locker room, knows what his role is and, most importantly knows what that situation demanded of him. Claude Julian probably never had to utter a word to Thornton. He just assumed that his team's fistic deterrent would do his job and be same team player hes always been.

Contrast that with how the Milan Lucic - Ryan Miller incident went down. Lucic freight trains Miller and turns to face what should have been wave after wave of furious Sabres. Unfortunately for Miller, the closest Sabres to Lucic were team captain, Jason Pominville, and assistant captain Vanek. Pominville took one look at Lucic and immediately curled, found Bruins center David Krejci and clinged for life to him like he was Queequegs coffin. Vanek, to his limited credit, actually tried to engage Lucic, but after one swipe from the hulking Bruin, Vaneks colon buckled and he turned to join Pominville, the two nestling into the safety of Krejcis bosom. This left Andres Sekera alone to get mauled by Lucic. Tyler Myers and the furthest player away from the incident, Paul Gaustad were both intercepted by linesman and other Bruins before they could get involved.

So here again we have team leaders faced with an altercation they arent going to win. Lucic would handle any of the Sabres on the ice at that time and maybe even two of them at once. But it wasnt an actual fight. Given the way the linesmen jumped in, it would never have a chance to become one, and it certainly wasnt the potential death match Thornton willingly stepped into. Yet Pominville and Vanek couldnt even be bothered to give a half assed face wash to Lucic over a linesmans shoulder. If I was the coach of those two, there would have been some embroidery work done between periods as we reassigned team leadership.

But I wasnt the coach of the team. Lindy Ruff was. And since the Lucic incident happened in the first period, he had two chances to tell his team and its leaders exactly what he thought of their lack of response and demand they rectify it. But he didnt. Instead he chose to send his teams out for two more retribution-free periods, then bitch and moan to the press afterwards like an impudent soccer dad about how it was open season on goalies.

Ruff's gutless leadership didnt end there. In the fallout after the incident, Ruff chose to cuss out the press, but not before singling out, effectively scapegoating, one of his own players. Gaustad, again the Sabre furthest away from the incident when it happened, expressed to the local media his remorse and embarrassment following that game. "I hoped I could have done more there," He said. What was Ruffs response to Gaustads remorse? Paul was on the ice. Yup, Paul was on the ice, Lindy. And so were your captain and assistant, Lindy, but you chose to feed Gaustad to the wolves. Because alienating a 3rd line center man is easier to do than it is to call out Pominville or Vanek. Lord forbid, if you actually have to be a head coach and hold your team leaders accountable. No, lets pillory Gaustad and shame him into fighting Lucic. That will fix everything right Lindy? Its no wonder the Sabres season collapsed around them shortly thereafter. But it shouldnt surprise anyone that Lindy Ruff the coach turtles exactly the same way Lindy Ruff the player did against Cam Neely.

And last night, with 13.6 seconds remaining in a 7-4 game, the real Sabres were exposed again. Vanek and Pominville were taking a faceoff across from recently called up Providence Bruins tough guy Lane McDermid. Ruff responded by calling a timeout that was originally perceived as the insulting cherry on top of a grudge match beat down sundae. When asked to explain the questionable stoppage, Ruff said the following:

Well when Lane MacDermid was lined up on the faceoff with one of our skill players, I didnt want anything to happen, Ruff said. Thats really all it was about.

I dont know whether Ruff legitimately feared a late game mugging or if he caught a whiff of his captain and assistant having a brown out in their hockey pants from the Buffalo bench. But either way, feeling the need to spare his dainty team leaders 13.6 seconds of mortal peril tells you all you need to know about the Sabres. They are still a gutless operation from the top down. So forget about the timeout being some sort of shot at the Bruins. If Ruff was really doing it to insult Boston, he would have made Scott call the time out.

Buffalo may think last nights win fixed all its toughness problems and avenged the embarrassment of last season. But the truth is that by bringing in John Scott and trading Derek Roy for Steve Ott (who managed to record a -1 in a seven goal rout) they made themselves a shallow, one line team. Great in NHL 95 on Sega where you can turn line changes off, but bad if you want to win in the NHL playoffs, where your new found security blanket wont sniff the ice.

Come this summer, there wont be any hats, t-shirts or parades in Buffalo. If the Sabres want rings, theyll have to ask Shawn Thornton to borrow one of his. Thats because in the NHL playoffs, you have to play every shift like you have something in your cup in order to hoist one on the last day of the season.

Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

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Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

BUFFALO -- With it appearing that Loui Eriksson is all but gone from the Bruins with the July 1 opening of free agency around the corner, B’s general manager Don Sweeney must find a way to replace the second-leading point man from last year’s hockey club. With or without a suitable Eriksson replacement at right wing via trade or free agency, the Bruins will also need greater production from their returning wingers on the right side.

That means 20-year-old David Pastrnak needs to have a breakthrough season after the Bruins knocked away attempts to extract him in trade discussions for a top-4 defenseman, and Jimmy Hayes needs to rebound from a streaky, disappointing first season in Boston. The 6-foot-6 Hayes slumped to 13 goals and 29 points in 75 games, and was a team-worst minus-12 while going through long stretches where it was hard to even notice him on the ice.

His GM said that needs to change next season with the Bruins counting on him to play more consistently, and be willing to play the big man’s game.

“We have internal candidates that might have to step up, and David is a player like that…Jimmy is a player like that. There’s no question we’re not a complete team right now,” said Sweeney. “So we’ll go to work now, and that could be through free agency, or through potential trade stuff. It could also be about the excitement if somebody pops from the development side of things. I think Jimmy had a pretty start to the year, but he really tailed off when the team needed him most. He should take some responsibility for that. We had a pretty frank discussion about that to challenge him to take his game to another level, and be able to help out a younger player.

“He played a lot with Ryan Spooner. I have to put ownership on Jimmy in terms of saying ‘Hey, I have to take more responsibility. It’s not just about finishing and scoring goals.’ He has the capacity to do that. He gets power play time and net-front time, and he needs to get to the hard areas of the ice with more consistency. It’s an area that he needs to continue to improve upon. We as an organization feel that we need to have players that are driven to get better.”

As far as the free agent options mentioned by Sweeney, Kyle Okposo and Troy Brouwer would be names to watch closely as they both fight the Black and Gold mold of winger with size, strength and finishing ability.

Clearly there’s no choice but for the 26-year-old Hayes to have a bounce-back season given that he’s signed for two years in Boston at $2.3 million per season, and that they need him with the right side of their forward group in flux. 

Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

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Ray Bourque arrested and charged with OUI Friday

Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque was arrested in Andover this weekend, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol according to multiple reports.

Andover Police told CBS Boston that the former Bruins and Avalanche defenseman was taken into custody around 11:30 p.m. Friday night on Lowell Street. The Bruins legend has lived on the North Shore with his family since retiring from the NHL, and has been a constant presence in the community at charitable events and Bruins functions.

Bourque was released on bail. No additional information was immediately available

Sweeney on chasing Stamkos, Lucic: 'We will make all the calls'

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Sweeney on chasing Stamkos, Lucic: 'We will make all the calls'

BUFFALO – While it certainly doesn’t feel like there’s any chance of it realistically happening, the Bruins plan to reach out to some of the bigger fish on the free agent market with roughly $21 million in cap space to work with.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney lost out on a defenseman trade target in Dmitry Kulikov on Saturday when he was dealt by the Panthers to the Buffalo Sabres and appears far away from acquiring top D-man target Kevin Shattenkirk.

So, the Bruins will turn their attention to the free agent market opening on July 1, and with that in mind Sweeney didn’t rule out the Bruins making a run at Stephen Stamkos, or potentially welcoming back power forward Milan Lucic.

“The interview period has already begun, and we were on the phone today with players that we had targeted. It was our first opportunity to speak with them, and see if things line up. It will play out over the next few days and we will be aggressive about it because we want to improve,” said Sweeney, who was adamant that the Bruins would make all the necessary exploratory phone calls when specifically asked about both Stamkos and Lucic. “We will take the temperature of whoever will help our hockey club, and it if lines up then that’s what we’d like to do.

“There are a lot of coveted ones on the market, and we will make all of the calls. It’s everybody. The city would embrace it, and the organization has great respect for [Lucic]. So there’s no question that we would explore all players.”

There may be some sentimental interest from Lucic's camp in returning to Boston, but there's also a sense the left wing has become comfortable back on his native West Coast. The Canucks in his home city of Vancouver and the Edmonton Oilers are expected to push hard for his punishing, board-rattling services. Wooing Stamkos would be particularly difficult given that the Bruins seem years away from truly competing for a Stanley Cup and have two frontline centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

While either one would certainly help a Black and Gold team likely to be losing Loui Eriksson in free agency, much of their existing cap space is going to be eaten up by a contract extension for RFA Torey Krug, a deal for whatever replacement they have in mind for Eriksson should he sign with a different team and the top-four defenseman that Boston has needed since trading Dougie Hamilton at last June’s draft weekend in Florida.