Buffalo, NY - Coming into Buffalo for the second time in just six days this week, Boston is looking to earn its fifth straight road win tonight against a Sabres team who they have already played twice this season.
"Kind of facing the same teams over and over again, not playing the Western Conference. It creates – not that we don’t have a rivalry with them already – kind of more excitement to the game when we play these guys that many times in a row," said third liner Chris Bourque following morning skate at First Niagara Center.
"It should be fun."
However, Boston's first loss to the Sabres - still their only loss in regulation this season - was not too fun. And the B's have since clamped down defensively. While still searching for overall consistency and more goal scoring, they've been pleased with establishing themselves as a "tough-to-play-against" team by keeping things simple.
"I think just we don’t try to do anything to fancy. It’s not the character of our team," said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who faces opposing teams' top talent alongside Captain Zdeno Chara. "We’re more of a checking team, kind of. We get pucks deep and try to keep it simple because we know that it works for us."
As usual, Boychuk was paired with Chara today in pregame skate during line rushes, as the other two defensive pairings - no surprise here - remained the same, with Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton together, and Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid side by side.
“I think that group of six defenseman is tough,” Sabres' Head Coach Lindy Ruff said on that group of Boston defensemen. “I think with Chara back there playing half the game, he’s one of the best defenders in the league, one of the strongest."
That tough D-corps is joined by a a group of forwards who have proved they are responsible defensively with a strong and speedy two-way game.
"That’s part of the game that we’ve tried to work on," Coach Julien said, when told his team had been complimented by Lindy Ruff as having "excellent team speed, maybe the best team speed in the league.”
"At the beginning of the year, breakouts were pretty good, I thought our neutral zone could use some work. We worked on our neutral zone, and certainly that’s helped. We’ve got some players that are coming into their own, that have some speed up front and that certainly helps."
"If you look at a guy like Lucic last year and you look at the same guy this year, he’s skating so much better. Those are the kind of things that make things happen. Peverley’s got great speed. You can add Chris Bourque to that group - he’s coming into his own."
"Our fourth line when you have a guy like Paille that can skate the way he does. Seguin, Bergy, Marchand, I think they’re all pretty good skaters. We like to think we’re a pretty quick team, but we’ve also had to work on that."
During morning skate line rushes, the lineup looked the same as the beginning of the season, with Lucic-Krejci-Horton and Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin as the top two lines, followed by the third line of Bourque-Kelly-Peverley and Merlot Line of Paille-Campbell-Thornton. Jay Pandolfo and defeseman Aaron Johnson were the extra skaters on.
The speedy B's have yet to suffer a regulation loss on the road and are 4-0-1 - their OT loss coming at the hand of the Rangers at MSG, when they made one of their comebacks to force the extra time. Something once again indicative of the Boston's "no-quit" ability to pick up points, especially with strong surges in the third period, now having outscored opponents 15-5 in the final frame.
"It was huge. It showed a lot of character. I just kind of had that feeling that we were going to do it," Bourquw said on earning the point against the Rangesr Tuesday. "They kept going, we got that one goal and Marchy scored with 40 or so seconds left. We still had a good feeling on the bench, it was just a matter of making the plays. It was a big point to get."
"Just trying to get as many points as we can, take each game as it comes, and if we lose then don’t worry about it and just learn from it," said Boychuk, matter-of-factly, on the simple approach the B's take to each game.
"And if we win we’ve got to forget about it as well because we’ve got to get as many points as we can right now with our schedule being the way it is at this moment."
Limiting Vanek and the Sabres
The first time against Boston this season, Thomas Vanek skated away with five points (including a hat trick and two assists) en route to the Sabres' 7-4 victory. This past Sunday, he was held pointless, and after he was kept off the scoresheet by Ottawa in Buffalo's 2-0 loss on Tuesday, is now without points in two straight games, marking the first time he’s been held off the scoresheet in consecutive games since Mar. 12-17, 2012.
"I think you just always have to be aware when he’s on the ice," Chris Bourque said pregame. "The game that he beat us he had five points. He’s a big reason for that win for them. We have to try and shut him down and the other offensive guys they have over there. Just got to keep getting pucks on Miller, he’s a great goaltender, so the more pucks we get on him the better chance we’ll have."
Following the Sabres' morning skate, it was reported that Ryan Miller would start his fifth straight game for Buffalo. Miller is 1-1-0 against the B's this season, 5-6-1 overall for Buffalo, with a 2.89 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
Meanwhile, down the hall at First Niagara Center, Coach Julien did not give an official word on whether Anton Khudobin would be making his second start against Buffalo this season (after earning the 3-1 win on Sunday), or Tuukka Rask would be the goaltender between the pipes. "I can tell you that our goaltender will be European," he quipped, during his pregame press briefing….
Khudobin is 2-0-0 this season, with a 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage, while Rask holds a 6-1-2 record, with a 2.07 goals-against average and .919 save percentage through nine games.
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