BOSTON, MA – The Buffalo Sabres come into tonight’s match-up with the Bruins at TD Garden coming off of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday (when Toronto scores with just 1.5 seconds left in OT). The loss marked their fourth straight after opening the season 2-0.
The focus for Buffalo is on what the club needs to do to get back on track. However, much of the spotlight heading into the game has been on the expectation that tonight’s game could get physical.
During the offseason, the Sabres acquired burly forward John Scott (6-foot-8, 270 pounds) and antagonist Steve Ott (Bruins fans might remember him well from his incidents with the B’s during his time in a Dallas Stars uniform) in what fans and media think was an attempt to keep up with the toughness of the Bruins.
Though you won't catch either team's bench boss siding with the speculation.
"It was just overall toughness," Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff said on the acquisitions. "They make us a grittier team, it has nothing to do with the Bruins."
"As far as I’m concerned, speculations are speculations," echoed B's bench boss Claude Julien. "We’ve played our style of game forever and we don’t plan on changing that, so there’s nothing, as far as we’re concerned, that is something to be worried about."
Another storyline laced into the rhetoric is of the Sabres possibly still wanting to get some payback for Milan Lucic’s hit on goalie Ryan Miller early last season, even though Lucic answered for the hit with a fight against Patrick Kaleta – who will be out tonight, with a neck injury – later on in the season.
And you won't find either team siding with that line of thinking, either. The additions of Scott and Ott had nothing to do with trying to keep pace with the Bruins, but rather to keep pace with every team in the NHL, according to Ruff.
“We dealt with that last year. We had a game where [Paul] Gaustad fought Lucic, [Robyn]Regehr fought Chara," said Sabres longtime coach Lindy Ruff. "We played a couple of great games against them, we came away with points. Hockey’s about winning the game, about winning the mental battle, winning the physical battle, it’s about winning the territorial battle. If you win those, you give yourselves a chance to win.”
"I think last year was last year and after what happened the next game I think Looch did what he had to do with Gaustad and I think that was over with," said B's center Chris Kelly. "By no means are we focusing on that, this is a good hockey team, and in a shortened season when you’re playing these teams a lot of times the two points is the main thing."
The 6-foot-8 John Scott is looking forward to the match-up with the Bruins, in what he expects to be a hard-fought game. He’ll also be ready to go if he should be called upon to fight.
“I’m not scared of anybody on this team,” said Scott, following his team’s morning skate. “If they want to fight, I’ll be right there ready to fight.
“I’ve played against the Bruins a few times, it’s fun to play against physical teams, it’s something I thrive on. I think a lot of guys enjoy the physical aspect of the game. It’s going to be a hard hitting game, I enjoy that.”
The Edmonton native says the Sabres always want to play a physical game; they won’t play physical just because they are facing the Bruins.
“We just want to play our game, it doesn’t matter who were playing,” Scott explained. “It just happens to be the Bruins tonight, it’s Montreal on Saturday. We want to play our game, we want to be a hard-nosed team, we want to be tough to play against.”
Head Coach Lindy Ruff agreed with his forward, that Buffalo has to play well in the dirty areas and win battles to be successful against a team like Boston.
“You try to win the puck battles, you try to win the territorial battles,” said the Sabres longtime coach. “Not coming out of here with points is not being successful. In a short season, you need points. We’ve answered the physical challenge, we’ve been there for each other. We played a gritty style, we played a hitting style, we have to win games.
Ott, who has the quite the history against the Black & Gold, knows the Bruins will come out and play their tough, physical brand of hockey and he expects his team will show their grittiness, as well.
“This is the type of team over there that likes to play hard,” said Ott. “We want to match their compete. Team toughness is within, you don’t have to go out there and drop the gloves every five minutes to prove how tough you are. I think the toughness comes from the locker room, every guy in here , when you have each others' backs and you play a tough team to play against, I think that’s when you bring your team toughness.”
When asked if he was prepared to drop the gloves, perhaps with Gregory Campbell, who he fought back in 2011, Ott mirrored what most "enforcers" in the NHL (including B's resident "tough guy" Shawn Thornton) often say - that most fights aren't premeditated - they happen in the heat of the game.
“I don’t sit there and emphasize fights, I’m playing a lot of minutes right now,” he said. “Those are probably more important than sitting in the box. If it happens it happens, that’s part of being a hockey player.”