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Going will get tougher for Seguin

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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Tyler Seguin is already a second-half pro, having made it through the first 40-plus games of the NHL’s grueling 82-game season.

The returns have been spotty for the speedy 18-year-old, who was the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft. He has been a center, a left winger, and a right winger, and until further notice it sounds as if he’ll remain on the wing, his version of a big-league incubation chamber.

“What we’ve got at center is experience up the middle,’’ noted Bruins coach Claude Julien, asked yesterday morning where he is most comfortable playing Seguin. “That’s important for a hockey club, and it’s important for your defensive-zone support.’’

Playing on the wing, said Julien, takes a lot of responsibilities off Seguin’s shoulders. Read: He doesn’t have to concern himself with the defensive work a center must tend to. He also doesn’t have to bear the burden that comes with being identified as the guy who makes a line click.

As Julien talked, it became obvious that he believes Seguin also must acclimate to the increased physical burden that comes with playing in the NHL. He is, after all, still a kid, one who easily sliced through the little defensive resistance he faced in junior hockey.

Julien wants to see a better battler, especially as the season progresses and those one-on-one fights become tougher and more meaningful.

“I think we know there is still room for him to improve,’’ said Julien. “As we get closer to the end of the year, games get tougher and tougher, and he’s got to learn to be able to battle in those circumstances, and that’s what we expect.

“His skill level is what it is — it’s great — and it’s going to keep showing more and more as he progresses with experience. But the one thing he hasn’t faced yet is that second half of the year where games mean so much to teams and that grinding part of it means more and more.’’

Seguin went 0-0—0 last night and has only one goal and 3 points in the last 10 games. He recorded one shot in 9:40 — the least amount of ice time logged by a Bruin.

Saving face The Bruins, despite a lackluster night, won 60 percent of the faceoffs. Marc Savard continued to improve at the dot, where he won 9 of 14 (64 percent). One of his wins led directly to Dennis Seidenberg’s goal . . . “We gave up too many odd-man rushes and they used them to score,’’ lamented Seidenberg . . . Indicative of the evening, the Sabres swept the three stars: 1. Paul Gaustad; 2. Nathan Gerbe; 3. Andrej Sekera . . . Buffalo’s Mike Weber made it back after being felled by a Steve Kampfer slapper in the second period. But Patrick Kaleta, hammered on the left hand by a Johnny Boychuk slapper, was finished after only 6:28 of ice time. According to coach Lindy Ruff, X-rays of the hand proved negative. Kaleta suffered a fracture in the same hand earlier this season.

Serving up turnover The Bruins committed 14 turnovers, while the Sabres limited their boo-boos to four. By far the most telling stat of the evening . . . Nathan Horton landed three shots on net, but once again nothing went in . . . Kampfer made a dazzling defensive play, rushing back to thwart an odd-man rush, knocking the puck away from Thomas Vanek with a diving, one-handed poke check . . . David Krejci isn’t doing nearly enough in the offensive zone. He logged another Full Thornton (0-0—0) last night, his eighth in the last 13 games, and he has only two goals since Dec. 15.

Ference returns Andrew Ference, sidelined three games with a minor injury, was back in business on the Boston back line, spelling rookie Adam McQuaid. The presence of Ference enables the banged-up McQuaid to get some needed time on the sidelines. “If we didn’t have Ference, he’d be in the lineup,’’ said Julien. “It’s one of those situations where you have healthy guys, so now you give [McQuaid] an opportunity to be healthy by giving him a little bit of time off. I don’t think there’s too many players that play at 100 percent anymore.’’ . . . The Sabres were without Drew “Hat Trick’’ Stafford, who was sidelined by a groin injury. Stafford struck for three goals in each of the clubs’ two previous meetings . . . Tuukka Rask, without back-to-back wins this season, fell to 4-10-1. Other than his lackluster record, Rask’s numbers have been strong, including a 2.67 goals-against mark and a .923 save percentage. They only look soft in comparison to Tim Thomas’s 1.83 and .945, not to mention his 22-4-6 record. p>Alumni association Two familiar faces in the press box: Craig Billington and Rob DiMaio. Billington is the Avalanche’s director of player development (the Don Sweeney role here in the Hub of Hockey). DiMaio is a scout for the Blues. Not key players in Bruins lore, but two exceptional guys . . . Horton, with but one goal since Dec. 11 (1-4—5 in 17 games), raced in alone with 5:14 gone in the first and fired a doorstep backhander wide left. It is becoming painful to watch the former Panther’s futility.

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