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Series keys: Clogged lanes and blocked shots 04.14.10 at 1:19 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Remember the end of the 2006 NFL regular season? Nobody thought that the Colts would be able to do anything in the playoffs because their defense could not stop the run to saves its life that year. Then Indianapolis got safety Bob Sanders back, dominated both phases of defense through the postseason and won the Super Bowl over the Bears in February.

With the two best statistical goaltenders in the league between the pipes for the Bruins and Sabres series, do not expect a Colts like turnaround for Boston’s offense. At the same time that does not mean it will be completely incapable of putting the puck in the net. The Sabres are known as a team with some good scorers (Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly come to mind) who also crash the net and clog the lanes in the offensive zone with all five skaters.

The Bruins have been focusing on crashing the net, especially in the latter part of the season when it seemed that was the only way they could score, though have also specialized the last couple of years in coach Claude Julien’s system in making sure that their goaltenders have the best sight lines possible.

“They can complain all they want about not getting goal scoring but they have the talent,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo news earlier this week. “From our side we have to defend against the talent. Its the playoffs. Everything goes to zeroes. There are no stats established right now.”

That being said, the keys to this series fall within the lanes. The Sabres are known as a team that likes to send five guys towards the net, clog the shooting and passing lanes enough that it is hard for the goaltender to see the puck. This type of game, growing more prevalent in the NHL, leads to shots having eyes through traffic, deflections, tip-ins and rebounds as the primary mode of scoring.

“Well, I think everybody in the league, and I think this is no secret, is that they attack at least four and at times will have five guys by the time that they get to the goal at the top of the circle,” Julien said on Tuesday. “Rightfully so, because they are so confident about the guy between the pipes [Miller] that they feel they can bail him out.”

The Bruins have one of the forefathers of this style of play on their team in the form of veteran Mark Recchi who offered his wisdom on what the series is going to look like and how teams go about defending it.

“It is all about blocking shots, basically,” Recchi said. “It is a little harder to do things than you wanted too. You used to be able to do whatever you wanted to in front. But now there are so many people blocking and making sure that pucks don’t get to the front of the net, basically that is how you control something like that. We have to make sure that our defensemen get pucks on the net so we can create some problems.”

Recchi knows that that particular style of play will be dominant in the series and the team that controls the front of the net will have the advantage. In that regard, both the Bruins and Sabres have a lynchpin at the center of defensive cores that know how to clear the way in front of the goaltenders. For Boston that is the big man, captain Zdeno Chara. Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Buffalo has a bit of a Chara clone in the form of 6-foot 8-inch 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. Which team wins that battle, experience or youth?

“He is a key player on their team,” Milan Lucic said of Myers. “It is like every team. They have a standout defenseman that you have to get after early and often. It is no secret that they are going to be getting after [Chara] early and often and try to wear him down. He is a key part of their team and we have to do everything in our power to try and shut him down.”

After Chara and Myers, the rest of the defensemen on each squad will do their best to make sure that pucks do not even make it to the net. As the Bruins stretch run of tight games running up to the playoffs have had win-or-go-home circumstances, there have been a lot of of Black and Gold bodies flying towards the point to impede impending slap shots. Dennis Seidenberg was particularly effective in that department for Boston (he led the league in blocked shots between the Panthers and Bruins) but without him, the Bruins have other players who have been willing to sacrifice their bodies. Patrice Bergeron has been known to dive in front of pucks, so has Dennis Wideman.

“Both teams are trying to do that. Both teams defensively block a lot of shots and get it lanes and that is the key to most teams actually now. You know, shot blocking is a big thing now and that is going to be a big factor in a lot of ways,” Recchi said. “Well, they try to block you out of the lane, not let you get to the front of the net. When you do get to the front they try to get in front of you and block you out that way, so basically they are trying to avoid you getting there and blocking out and not letting the goaltender see it. What they do is step in front of you and they try to block the puck inside.”

Read More: Buffalo Sabres, Claude Julien, Dennis Seidenberg, Dennis Wideman
Chiarelli sees similarities with Sabres 04.12.10 at 12:51 pm ET
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There is to be a distinct flavor to the teams that populate the Northeast Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference — decent goaltending, collapsing defensive styles along with rich traditions and devout fan bases.

Along those lines, the Bruins are getting ready to take divisional rival Buffalo for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday, and Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli sees a lot of similarities between how the two organizations have been built.

“I have admired the Buffalo organization. The way that they have built the team, the way that they stress bringing their players through the system, getting those players in the lineup,” Chiarelli said in a conference call Monday morning.  “I admire the coach and the way that he has changed through the years, I think he is the longest tenured coach.”

The fortunes of the two franchises have been up and down in the last decade or so, though Buffalo claims the upper hand in more recent history with two trips to the conference finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07 before missing the playoffs the last two years to retool the roster with younger players and establish their stalwart goaltender Ryan Miller on the back end.

“I have seen a team that has undergone a bit of a transformation over the past few years. They have added more speed up front and you can see that in their forecheck and their neutral zone play,” Chiarelli said. “Obviously their goalie is a terrific goalie, he is very hard to beat. We have played them well, there is a defensive element to their game as well which I think is inherent in [coach] Lindy [Ruff’s] system and how [general manager] Darcy [Regier] builds teams that obviously we have, not the same type of component, but there is an emphasis on our team on that also.”

The Bruins and Sabres share some history in the front office as well as ice level. Chiarelli’s assistant general manager, Jim Benning, hails from the Buffalo organization and assistant coaches Doug Houda and Craig Ramsay both spending time with the team.

“They have some good principles there and our assistant GM, Jim Benning, is from there, they’€™ve got very good principles there. It is not a coincidence that we are facing each other because there are some good people who have run through there,” Chiarelli said.

Everything in this series is going to orbit and the linchpins of the respective lineups — Miller and Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. The defense will play tight, stay close to the crease and the puck will spend a lot of time on the half walls. Chiarelli said to expect a lot of goals of the tip-in and deflection variety.

“It’€™s tough. You are going to see good goaltending and obviously collapsing [defense] because of the good goaltending,” Chiarelli said. “So, you will see a lot of traffic and when there is traffic and collapsing [defensemen] you are going to see tip-ins and those types of goals. I think you are going to see those types of goals deciding the games, notwithstanding really good goaltending.”

Chiarelli said a couple of times that prognosticating the results of the series will be difficult, especially considering the distinct similarities between the two rosters.

“From a matchup perspective, I think you are going to see some tight defense and the fact that you have two very good goalies. They will be hard games, they compete hard. They have a goal-scorer in [Tomas] Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit,” Chiarelli said. “I am not sure if they are getting some of their guys back but they have some pretty skilled forwards up front and if we forecheck the way we are capable of doing, I think we are in for a pretty good series.”

Read More: Buffalo Sabres, Peter Chiarelli, Ryan Miller, Tuukka Rask
Bruins look to continue Sabres woes 02.09.10 at 2:28 pm ET
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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 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. “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, the Bruins are the seventh-strongest team in the Eastern Conference. 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 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. 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 may be the best goaltender in the league but, like fellow Olympian Tim Thomas, 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.

Read More: Buffalo Sabres, Ryan Miller, Tim Connolly,
Bruins ready to bounce back against Buffalo 01.28.10 at 1:44 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — After a week of practice to get healthy and screw their heads on straight, the Bruins will travel to Buffalo on Friday to take on the Northeast Division leading Sabres. It is an interesting challenge for Boston as the Buffalo is 15 points ahead of the Bruins in the standings but has been in a bit of a funk for the last week, going 1-3-1 in its last five games. The Sabres did snap a three game skid by beating the Devils 2-1 in a shootout on Wednesday night in New Jersey and remain a very dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

“They are a pretty good team, they are playing well,” coach Claude Julien said. “I saw them play yesterday against New Jersey. They are playing with lots of confidence, they got great goaltender which keeps them in the game. They gave up 40 shots last night and only gave up a goal. We are already challenged a little bit in the goal scoring department so we are going to have to work just that much harder to get past this guy.”

The Sabres goaltender is Ryan Miller who is expected to be the starting net-minder for Team USA in the Vancouver Olympics and is second in the NHL with a 2.06 goals-against average. As Julien said, with the Bruins scoring woes, it will indeed be a challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Buffalo Sabres, Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Tim Thomas
Mike Milbury and Tim Connolly aren’t buds 02.05.09 at 2:15 pm ET
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I’ve always been a big fan of all the NESN hockey broadcasters. Gord Kluzak and Rick Middleton certainly have their charms and add to the broadcasts, but nobody can bust out a “little self-centered dink” throwaway line quite like Mike Milbury. The always-volcanic Milbury proved it again last night by taking it to a new level between the second and third period of the B’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Milbury and host Kathryn Tappen sat in the studio and calmly watched as sideline report Naoko Funayama went through their paces with Michael Ryder, and then came the verbal explosion around the NHL highlights package.

The rift obviously stems from Connolly’s two years with the New York Islanders when Milbury was running the organization, but Mad Mike basically slapped Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly with a “self-centered, little dink” during the Sabres portion of the footage. Not quite as primitively satisfying as watching Milbury beat a man with his own shoe, but it’s still good to know that the bluster is still simmering when it needs to be called upon.

Here’s the footage from last night with the fireworks beginning around the 1:30 mark (note: you’ll need to turn up the audio to hear the comments):

Read More: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Kathryn Tappen, Mike Milbury
Sounds of the game… Sabres 4, Bruins 2 01.03.09 at 3:05 pm ET
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For the first time since Dec. 10, the Bruins tasted defeat on Saturday, snapping a remarkable 10-game run of success. And for the first time since Oct. 23, they lost at home, a 14-game string of victory. How long ago was that? The Red Sox had just lost Game 7 of the ALCS to Tampa Bay four days earlier. Afterward, every Bruin to a man talked about facing adversity and how they plan to learn from this loss. Perhaps Milan Lucic said it best when he said that “good teams don’t lose two in a row and we have to be hungry come our next game.”  That will be the focus when they continue their six-game homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night. But for now, we look back on a game with the help of coach Claude Julien, who introduced a new term into the lexicon of the Boston sports fan. “We needed some JAM and this was one of those games where you need a little bit more JAM.”  JAM is apparently hockey-talk for juice, energy and desire.

Julien said Saturday wasn’t Boston’s best effort.

Julien said Buffalo earned the win.

Milan Lucic said the Bruins will be hungry to start a new streak.

Marc Savard on the winning streaks coming to an end.

Tim Thomas said it was good to be tested with a loss.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Claude Julien, Jam
Julien leaning toward playing Kobasew 11.07.08 at 1:58 pm ET
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Bruins head coach Claude Julien indicated after Friday morning’s practice that he’s “leaning toward” inserting winger Chuck Kobasew back into the Black and Gold’s lineup on Saturday. The B’s are set to host the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night and will be looking to capture their third straight victory on home ice this season.

 

 

 

“I’ll obviously make my final decision tomorrow, but I can tell you that much,” said Julien, who had previously said he wouldn’t return Kobasew to the fray until he felt like he could be a “difference-maker”. 

Kobasew has been skating with the team for the better part of two weeks, and said he’s passed every medical clearance hurdle before deeming himself ready to return to the ice. The former Boston College forward scored 22 goals and 17 assists in 73 games for the B’s last season and had formed with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler to create an extremely effective line during the preseason finale and opening night against the Colorado Avalanche.

“We’€™ve given the fourth line a lot of credit for being the type of line that they are and giving us the energy that we need ‘€“ but David Krejci’€™s line, whoever he played with,” said Julien. “[Blake] Wheeler and [Chuck] Kobasew that first game and even the last exhibition game…that line was dominant.”

Kobasew said he was “anxious” to get back on the ice and that he’d passed every hurdle in testing the full health of his right ankle. The additional practice he’s received this week has also allowed the the 6-foot, 193-pound mixture of skill and scrap to lock in his timing on the ice, and attempt to make a seamless transition back from the injured reserve list.

“I feel fine now and the last couple of days have been good,” said Kobasew. “They gave me a little extra time to practice with the guys and I’m feeling good. I’ve been skating for almost two weeks now. Now I’m just anxious to get out there and play.

“We’ll see what they want to do and go from there,” added Kobasew. “You want to play no matter what…even in the first couple of days after I got hurt. Now it’s nice to be out there skating with the guys and getting back into it. I’m looking forward to playing.”

It’s doubtful that Blake Wheeler — hot off the heels of a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs — will be removed from the top four lines, which would leave Petteri Nokelainen as the most logical player to be a healthy scratch if/when Kobasew makes his return Saturday night. It’s possible that a late injury could remove somebody else from the mix, but Julien said in some ways it’s a pleasant dilemma in making such difficult roster decisions.

“It’s a tough decision, but it’s a great position to be in,” said Julien. “I don’t like making those decisions because it’s not a lot of fun, but it’s a lot better than putting guys in that don’t necessarily deserve to be in the lineup. I’d rather be in this position than the other one.”

–Julien gave B’s center Patrice Bergeron the day off on Friday — an admission by the coach that his young center has been pushing hard since the first day of training camp in his recovery from last season’s nasty concussion. No injury or problems, just a simple day away from the frozen office.

–Good story by Puck Daddy at Yahoo! about success stories and failed attempts by athletes to change their uniform numbers a la Blake Wheeler last night.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chuck Kobasew
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