- Big Bad Blog - http://bigbadblog.weei.com -

Bruins look to continue Sabres woes

Tuesday night, the Bruins are on the road in Buffalo to take on the Sabres at HSBC Arena for the second time in the last seven games. Last time the Boston visited Buffalo, it suffered a 2-1 regulation defeat which served as the sixth of ten straight losses the Bruins endured during the month of January into February.

Well, the streak is over, courtesy of a 3-0 blanking of the Canadiens on Sunday at the Bell Centre [1] in Montreal. The Bears are looking to put a couple more points up before the Olympic break with games against Tampa and Florida on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

The Bruins currently sit at ninth in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, but are only two points from the seventh and eighth seeds and three from the sixth spot. The Sabres lead the Northeast Division with 71 points (one ahead of Ottawa), and would be the third seed if the playoffs started today.

Good things for the Bruins that they do not. The Eastern Conference is a logjam of mediocre teams playing inconsistently. Little streaks by teams have big effects on the standings. Take Ottawa and Buffalo for instance ‘€” the Sens have been as hot as anybody can be recently, and have jumped from below the playoff demarcation line to pushing Buffalo for the division lead. Ottawa’€™s stretch has coincided with a fall for the Sabres, who lost four in a row last week and sound very much like a team struggling to put pucks in the net.

“We’ve got to believe we’re a good team here,” Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime told the Buffalo News last week. [2] “We had been playing great. A lot of teams go through stretches like that. It’s how you respond, how you get back out of it. We had a good meeting [Saturday]. We have to believe in here.”

Sound familiar, Bruins faithful?

When it comes down to it though, the Bruins are not in that bad of shape. According to the Simple Ratings System (SRS) used by hockey-reference.com [3], the Bruins are the seventh-strongest team in the Eastern Conference [4]. The rating system works on a score aggregate that takes in baseline performance and then factors in the performance of all a teams competitors to arrive at a number that represents how much better or worse a team is in terms of predicated outcome against an average. (An average team in the SRS system is 0.) Right now, the Bruins are at -.18, which puts them ahead of the Canadiens (-.19), Rangers (-.22), Thrashers (-.26), Panthers (-.30) and Lightning (-.38), all of whom are clustered around the Bruins in the standings.

On the flip side, there is a definite disparity to the upper and lower halves of the Eastern Conference. Buffalo doubles the Bruins SRS score at .18, New Jersey is second at .30 and the Capitals blow everybody in the NHL [5] away with 1.11.

Yet, if you looked at those rankings a couple of weeks ago, Ottawa would have been lower than its current -.07 and the Bruins would have ranked significantly higher (among other fluctuations). The Sabres’ four-game losing streak where they have had trouble getting goals has definitely lowered their SRS rank. Overall though, the system is a good indicator of the strength of a team and where it stands in contrast to the rest of the league. It is worth mentioning the Bruins current number in the ranking does indicate that they are a below average team, and in the system, they are ranked 19th overall in the NHL [6]. That is what a ten-game losing streak does.

It will be important for the Bruins to jump on Buffalo early tonight and find a way to hold Tim Connolly and company off the board. Sabres netminder Ryan Miller [7] may be the best goaltender in the league but, like fellow Olympian Tim Thomas [8], has had a few struggles of late. Hence the four-game slide.

Tuesday night’s game is the fourth in the six-game series between the division opponents. The Bruins lead the series 2-1-0 after two wins against the Sabres in November.

Boston knows all too well recently that losing streaks are a slippery slope. When things are going bad, they tend to go all bad at once. The Bruins, for a change, have the chance to continue the Sabres slide and grab themselves two points in the process.