Bruins-Sabres preview: Let the hate flow

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Bruins-Sabres preview: Let the hate flow

Perhaps it will be another fight night at TD Garden. Even if it isn't, it will instead be about divisional opponents going for two points in a shortened 48-game regular season. The Bruins and Sabres clearly dont like each other and have plenty of past history, but theres also the sneaking suspicion that gooning it up isnt going to serve Buffalo despite the roster additions of John Scott and Steve Ott.

I think the fight talk is speculation, said Claude Julien. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesnt. So you can waste a lot of time thinking about it and answering questions. But you deal with it when it happens . . . if it happens.

The assumption when the Sabres signed the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Scott and traded for the irascible Ott is that Buffalo was looking to match the big, bad style of play employed by the Bruins and perhaps settle a few scores from last years testy matchups. The Bruins have scratched Chris Bourque for the first time in seven games and have activated AHL enforcer Lane MacDermid, so its not of bounds to believe that Boston thinks things could get a little rough in the hockey game.

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff indicated that couldnt be further from the truth, and that the Sabres were invading the TD Garden ice with two points on their mind.

"We added Ott and Scott for added team toughness and to make us an overall grittier team," the Sabres coach said. "It had absolutely nothing to do with the Bruins. You try to win the puck battles and territorial battles, said Ruff. We have to win a game. In a short season we need points. We dealt with it last year where Gaustad fought Lucic and where Robyn Regehr fought Chara. We played a couple of great games and took away points. Hockey is about winning the physical battle and winning the mental battle. We're here to get the points."

That makes sense given that Buffalo is last in the Northeast Division with a 2-3-1 record and five points to start the season. But it would be surprising if Otts antics and the presence of Scott dont portend a few bits of nastiness between two hockey clubs that dont like each other much after a slew of games against each other each and every season.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers has had a rough ride the last couple of years after winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie sensation with the Sabres. That rough ride continues this season for Myers, who has one point and a minus-2 in the first six games of this season for Buffalo. I wouldnt have guessed that Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold would be averaging more ice time than Myers this season, but thats been the case in the early going.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: "We always have good games with them. They always come out hard and we need to do the same. Theyve added a few guys and in the right time and place they have those guys that will fight a little bit more. Last year was last year. After what happened in the next game Lucic did what he had to do with Gaustad and thats over. By no means are we thinking about that. This is a good hockey team in Buffalo and when its a shortened season youre playing these teams a lot of times. So the two points are the thing. Chris Kelly on a matchup with the Buffalo Sabres that many think is going to have its share of hockey fight fireworks.

KEY MATCHUP: Thomas Vanek (3 goals, 7 assists) and Jason Pominville (4 goals, 5 assists) have a combined 19 points in Buffalos first six games and clearly powered the Sabres offense in the early going. It will be up to Zdeno Chara and Johnny BoychukDougie Hamilton to shut down their forward line and shut things down offensively. Chara has been in midseason form defensively to start the season and has been among Bostons best all-around players with five points in the first six games.

STAT TO WATCH: 3 The game against the Buffalo Sabres starts off a stretch of three games in a row against Northeast Division opponents with road tilts against the Maple Leafs and Canadiens dead ahead.

INJURIES: Rugged defenseman Robyn Regehr (lower body) is listed as day-to-day after missing Tuesday's game. Forward Patrick Kaleta will miss the game after spending Tuesday night in a hospital with a neck injury sustained when he was boarded by Toronto's Mike Brown. Cody McCormick (finger) and Ville Leino (strained right hip) are on injured reserve.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask will be making his sixth appearance of the season and has been everything the Bruins have wanted him to be thus far. For the season Rask is 4-0-1, and is fifth in the NHL with a 1.74 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. The Bruins will take those kinds of numbers stretched out over the long haul of a 48-game shortened season. Ryan Miller has always had a strong sense of antipathy for the Bruins during his Buffalo career and that should be no different in Thursday nights showdown. Miller is having a typically good start with a 2.37 goals against average and .925 save percentage, and perhaps the abbreviated NHL season will be a help to him as hes seemed to wear down in the past.

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.