– On Friday night in Buffalo, the Bruins will play the Sabres for the third time already this season and the second time within a week (the B’s also played the Rangers for the third time this year on Tuesday, wrapping up that season series). In the first match-up, the Bruins played, arguably, their worst game of the season defensively, allowing an uncharacteristic four goals in the third period, ultimately losing, 7-4.
The Black & Gold got some revenge just this past Sunday in Buffalo, taking down the Sabres by a score of 3-1, behind the stellar play of Anton Khudobin in net.
The Bruins clamped down defensively after the first time out against Buffalo, in which they allowed the Sabres to open things up too much.
Heading into tonight’s contest at First Niagara Center, the Sabres have lost two straight and five of seven. They have scored just one goal over their past two games and know they will have to step things up offensively if they want to beat the Bruins.
“I think that group of six defenseman is tough,” Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff said of the Black & Gold’s D-corps. “I think with [Zdeno] Chara back there playing half the game, he’s one of the best defenders in the league, one of the strongest. They’ve got excellent team speed, maybe the best team speed in the league.”
Sabres forward Jason Pominville also praised the B’s defensive system.
“They have five guys around the net, they have five guys back,” said Pominville, when asked what makes the Bruins so tough in their own end. “It’s the way the league is headed, they’re collapsing in the defensive zone.
“It’s one of the best, if not the best, in the league and part of the reason they have success year after year, is their ability to play well defensively," he added.
"I think you’ll create offense from it. The more time you spend out of your zone, the more time you’ll spend with the puck. That’s their philosophy and it’s worked out well for them.”
To be more successful offensively, especially against Boston, Ruff says the Sabres will have to be tougher in front of the net and get to the dirty areas in front of Tuukka Rask, something they haven’t been doing in recent games - and something the B's will certainly be watching.
“We’ve tried to work a little more traffic,” said Ruff, following his team’s morning skate. “We did have a couple great looks without traffic, that normally we’d put away. We didn’t, we’ve got to make sure tonight – we’re playing one of the best teams in the league, probably the best team in the East. We know that when the chances come up we’re going to have to take advantage of it.”
Being grittier and a tougher team to play against was one of the Sabres’ main focus points coming into the season, and Pominville thinks his team has done a good job of being a more rugged group as of late, despite not having the record to show for it.
“I think we started the year off as a team that was tough to play against,” he said. “I’m not only saying this because of the fights we had and guys sticking up for each other; I’m saying it because of the way we were with the puck, not giving it away, not turning pucks over, just making it hard on the other team.
“I think we stepped away from that a little bit and, lately, we’ve shown improvements in that area. It’s an area that we want to keep improving and get better at, keep being a tougher team to play against and making sure that teams, when they come in here, they know they’re in for a tough fight.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien has noticed the Sabres newfound toughness over the first two meetings of the season.
“We’ve played them twice now, if anything the physical part of the game, they drop the gloves, they’re a tougher team, there’s no doubt about it,” Julien said. “But, both games have gone both ways; We got beat 7-4 at home, and then we came back here and beat them in their own building.
“I think it’s a little early for me to assess that they’re a hard team to play against, but there’s no doubt they’re definitely a tougher team.”