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B's Beginning to Rediscover Identity with 4-0 Win Over Sabres

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BUFFALO — The Bruins set off on this three-game journey through Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo with one objective in mind: return with a winning record on the road trip.

With a 4-0 shutout win over the Sabres at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night, they were able to do just that.

“When you come off a road trip, you want to come out with a winning record,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “We do that every road trip, we’re going to be OK.”

The start of this season has not been easy for the Bruins. Through the first seven games, there have been times when they felt that they executed their game plan to perfection, and there have been times that their team identity seemed completely lost.

The B’s rediscovered that identity on Saturday, though, capping off this road trip with their second win in three games and taking four of a possible six points.

Early on in this trip, the B’s began to see some much-needed defensive improvements, only to commit some uncharacteristic and costly lapses in Thursday’s loss at Montreal. By the time Saturday's game rolled around, it was clear that the B's had rectified those issues, holding the Sabres scoreless as rookie goaltender Niklas Svedberg made 32 saves and posted the first shutout of his NHL career.

“Great feeling,” Svedberg said. “Most of all, to get the win for us was huge today, and of course, happy to get the shutout, too.

“It’s a good feeling right now for us to go home with two wins out of three, and it’s two good wins for us on this road trip. We can build off that.”

The B’s weren’t perfect on Saturday. They committed a total of eight penalties, but their penalty kill picked a good night to execute to perfection. For a full 60 minutes, Boston went all out to keep the puck out of the net, blocking a total of 22 shots.

“Last game, we talked about our breakdowns defensively, and tonight was much better,” Julien said. “I think we protected the slot area much better, and they got some shots from the inside, but most of it was coming from the outside. So we were a lot better defensively.

"I think that made a big difference, and it gives you an opportunity to go home feeling much better about yourself as a team, knowing that you got four out of six points and that our game is starting to come around.”

The defensive effort was all the more impressive considering the B’s were down a body, as Kevan Miller came off the ice with an upper body injury after dropping the gloves with Nicolas DesLauriers in the first period. He did not return to action.

“You just know you’re going to be playing a lot [when a defenseman goes down],” said Dougie Hamilton. “I don’t know if you change your game a little bit — maybe you've just got to pace yourself a little bit. [It’s] obviously tough when you see somebody go out, and [you] feel for them. Everyone can play, and everyone just rolled through and we played well. Nice to be able to do that.”

For the first few games of this season, the Bruins had trouble finding the back of the net, registering just four goals through the first four contests. But they insisted that if they kept putting the puck out in front, eventually the shots would begin to fall — and finally, they have. Boston has tallied eight goals in its last two games. On Saturday, three of the Bruins’ four goals came off wristers from the point, and all of them came courtesy of net-front havoc created by Bruins forwards.

“It’s something that you don’t see very often, but again, when you have good traffic and guys are driving to the net and staying in front of the net, it makes it hard on the goalies to see the puck and creates a lot of good things offensively,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara. “That’s how I think we scored those three goals. Even the fourth one, we had so much pressure around the net that Carl [Soderberg] was able to basically put it in.

“It’s not going to happen if you [don’t] have willingness staying in front, and it’s a great job by the forwards.”

Hamilton kicked off the scoring midway through the first period with a rifle from the left point that found the back of the net while Reilly Smith screened Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth. It marked Hamilton’s third goal at the First Niagara Center and his first of two points on the night, giving him five points in nine career games at the arena.

“Yeah, I like this rink,” Hamilton said with a smile. “I think it’s a credit to the forwards for being in front — those shots don’t go in if they’re not there.”

Then, Hamilton paused. “Or mine,” he said with another grin. “Maybe Torey [Krug]’s and Zee’s were pretty hard. I think it’s just [that] we were focusing on getting guys in front and pucks to the net. So nice to get rewarded from that.”

Julien said it's good to see Hamilton pick up where he left off when training camp ended.

"Dougie always seems to play well here in Buffalo, but at the same time, that’s what he needs, is the confidence," Julien said. "He was good. You could see him coming around a little bit, and like I said, he had a great camp. He just struggled a little bit out of the gate.

“But it’s just a matter of time for guys like him to find his game and be the player that we know he can be. So it was a good example of that tonight, for sure.”

Later in the first, Chara struck next with a nearly identical goal to Hamilton’s — also screened by Smith — that beat Enroth high on the glove side.

Reilly Smith on the first two goals is a guy doing a great job, but we scored three with a great net-front presence,” Julien said. “We scored another one getting our nose dirty around the net. … We missed a lot of chances, too — great opportunities. Overall, I think the guys did the things they had to do, that we asked them to do, in order to win hockey games.”

With 8:20 left in the second, Krug struck with Boston’s third long-range goal of the night, and Soderberg finished off the scoring with five minutes left in the frame, taking a feed from behind the net and backhanding it up and over Enroth for his second goal in as many games.

The Bruins have reiterated their long-term goals time and again, but five days ago, they headed out on the road with several short-term goals in mind: Win battles. Bury those dirty goals. Play the kind of sound defensive game that this team is known for.

“I think the compete level and the attitude and focus was there in previous games,” Chara said. “But just the attention to detail, and really taking care of our own zone — we always have built our offense from our strong defense, so that was the key for tonight.”

By the time the final horn sounded on Saturday night, the Bruins could say they had accomplished all of those short-term goals. Slowly but surely, this team is beginning to rediscover its identity.

“You got to start somewhere,” Julien said. “I think we know that we’ve struggled out of the gate, as I mentioned earlier, but you feel that it’s starting to come around. You can see it even in the body language of the players — they’re starting to have more fun, and when you have more fun, you seem to have better legs and you seem to move the puck better.

“So that’s where we’re at right now. You just got to hope that it continues, and I like the way we’ve played basically the last three games. If you take away those defensive mistakes in Montreal, I thought it was a good road trip.”

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