The Black and Gold were back at Ristuccia Arena today for one more practice before jumping a plane up to Buffalo for tomorrow night’s game with the Sabres, the front half of the team’s first back-to-back games of the season. They’ll be back at the Garden on Thursday to host the red hot San Jose Sharks, the only remaining team in the NHL without a regulation loss.
Currently one step away from being the bottom dwellers of the Eastern Conference – something to be said considering there are seven teams that have six points or less in their first seven plus games – the Buffalo Sabres are clearly in a rebuilding season. The rumor mill is already swirling with regards to the future home for goaltender Ryan Miller and star winger Thomas Vanek, and the team’s most news-worthy moments this year have been a preseason brawl that was started when resident goon John Scott went after Phil Kessel, the and the recent 10-game suspension that was handed down to everyone’s favorite dumb ass Patrick Kaleta for a head shot on Jack Johnson.
The Sabres have won just one game this year in ten tries, and don’t currently have a plus player on their roster. Youngster Cody Hodgson leads the team with seven points, while Vanek is just a step behind with six. Miller and netminder cohort Jhonas Enroth, once considered to be one of the top duos in the NHL, are both sporting goals against averages of 2.65+, though Miller’s save percentage is a decent .926.
Despite the team’s misfortunes, the Sabres tend to give Boston their best efforts. They took three of five meetings last season even as a sub-par squad (one was in a shootout), and Vanek in particular has always been a wizard against the B’s. Scott also made headlines last year by punching out Shawn Thornton, while “Brave” Steve Ott will always draw some attention regardless of who he’s playing for.
With all that said, this is yet another game the Bruins should absolutely win. The team is coming off what was perhaps their strongest effort of the season in Tampa on Saturday, and have had a good amount of rest heading into their next two games. Expect backup netminder Chad Johnson to make his first appearance for the Bruins this season in goal. The rest of the lineup should remain the same with Carl Soderberg in for Jordan Caron, though expect the defensive rotation between Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton to continue.
While the Sabres are wasting away in the cellar of the East, out West, the San Jose Sharks are sitting atop the conference with a sterling 8-0-1 record. They’ll visit the Garden Thursday night for a 7pm matchup with the B’s. San Jose’s offensive output has been nothing short of prolific, with a league best 40 goals for (next closest team, Pittsburgh, has 31) and five players with double digit points so far.
Obviously getting the most attention is 19-year-old Tomas Hertl of through-the-legs goal fame, but the Sharks still sport a top six that features Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, who leads the team with 12 points. And like Boston, San Jose sports a very deep roster that continues to produce, evident from having only three players that have suited up for a game yet to score a point (similarly the Bruins only have one).
The picture doesn’t get any brighter for opponents in the Sharks’ net, as Antti Niemi has been nothing short of spectacular while starting all nine games and sporting a 1.64 goals against average with a .930 save percentage.
This will be a great test for a Bruins team that has been somewhat all over the map so far in this short season. Their record is solid at 5-2, but their great effort in Tampa has been offset by a breakdown filled loss to the Red Wings and struggles to consistently put the puck in the net from the power play (surprise) as well as some of their key players (Jarome Iginla we’re looking at you).
Bank on Tuukka Rask being back in the Boston goal. Let’s just hope Joe Thornton doesn’t have a four goal game in him for this one.