This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game features two teams that have competed in countless classic games through the years. Whether it was in the Adams, Northeast or Atlantic divisions, the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres have always been a great matchup.
They're likely to engage in another great game Wednesday night. But in the big picture, these are two teams in very different places. And if the Buffalo Sabres truly want to turn things around for their franchise, they can take a hint from the Bruins.
I really like what I've seen from the Bruins. The thing that impresses me most is that they play the same way every night. From night to night, the Bruins have an identity to their game. They check well, they're physical, they're smart, they work hard. They're a disciplined team for the most part. But in addition to that, Tuukka Rask has been excellent. You put all that together and that is why they continue to have success.
The key could be Rask. Based on consistency from last year to this year, Rask is a top-five goalie in the League. You know what you're getting from Tuukka Rask every night. It also goes hand in hand with the good coaching staff they have there and the way guys play in front of him.
But the scariest thing about this team is they might be getting better. Just look at their young defensemen. I like what Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton have added on the back end. They've added a lot to the transition game and provide an added element of skill to make plays in all three zones.
All this is part of the Bruins' culture. It's all hands on deck in the organization. It starts with general manager Peter Chiarelli and the management team. They have established what it means to be a Bruin. Ever since Peter and coach Claude Julien have come aboard, they have become pillars of their organization.
I'm not saying any of that stuff about Buffalo. That's for sure.
We knew this would be a transition season in Buffalo, but Ryan Miller is playing great. Even if your goalie doesn't steal games, he has to give you a chance to win every night. Miller has done that and backup Jhonas Enroth has played well.
Boston has established an identity. But what is Sabres' identity right now? Are they a skill team? They have some skilled players. What elements of their game really define who they are? With Buffalo, it's different from shift to shift. The Sabres are so inconsistent.
They came into the season relying primarily on their prospects, but some of their young guys can be better than they have been. I'm expecting a lot more from Marcus Foligno. We know that Tyler Myers is capable of being better. What about Mikhail Grigorenko? Did we expect too much from him too soon? I think they're a team that is in flux right now, similar to the Calgary Flames last season. Considering how the Flames have improved this season, that is a reason for hope.
Buffalo has some pieces, but the Sabres' trouble comes down to two things. First, they've been outscored 13-1 in the first period this season and they have a tough time scoring goals. Clearly, their goaltending has been good. Obviously there is some character in that room. But if you don't score and you're down early, odds are you're going to end up losing a lot.
The main similarities between Buffalo this year and Calgary last year doesn't end with their lineup. Both teams also have key veterans who could be on the trading block. Last year in Calgary, it was Jarome Iginla, who was the face of the franchise and the best payer they've ever had. With all due respect to Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Vernon, Theo Fleury and a lot of excellent players who have played there, when you think of Calgary you think of Jarome Iginla.
Iginla was an impending free agent when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL Trade Deadline. That was something that needed to get ironed out. Jarome's in a better situation -- he's now with the Bruins after signing as a free agent during the summer -- and it's all the better for the franchise because it allows the Flames to reset and go forward. When Iginla faces off against the Sabres on Wednesday as a member of the Bruins, Buffalo management might want to keep that in mind when it comes to Miller and Thomas Vanek, both of whom will be UFAs this summer.
I don't think it's too soon to talk about trading Miller and Vanek and seeing what you can get for them. The challenge with those guys is based on their no-trade agreements -- they have some say in where they go.
But there is hope for the Sabres. After all, Calgary's cupboard was pretty much empty in terms of top prospects at the end of last season. But they picked Sean Monahan sixth in the 2013 NHL Draft and he's been awesome. Put it all together, and there should be great motivation for Buffalo.
Then again, nothing motivates a team quite like a big game against one of their oldest rivals.
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