Fresh from their shootout win in Atlanta last night, the Bruins will take on the Sabres here in Buffalo tonight, possibly with Tuukka Rask make a third straight start in the Boston net for the first time this season.
After surrendering Maxim Afinogenov's tying goal with 42 seconds to go in the third period in Atlanta, Towerin' Tuukka snuffed out shootout bids by Rich Peverley, Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk, allowing Patrice Bergeron's lone snipe in the shootout to stand for the victory.
''That goal at the end,'' mused coach Claude Julien, referring to the Afinogenov strike, the eighth this sesaon for the ex-Sabre, ''could have been a killer.''
Goalie Tim Thomas figured to make the start in Altanta, but a minor injury (nature undisclosed) had him instead slotted as Rask's backup. Thomas, though, looked agile and comfortable during the pre-game warmup in Atlanta and could be ready for duty at HSBC Arena. Coach Claude Julien made the morning skate optional here in Buffalo and won't make his starting netminder known until much closer to the 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
Thomas, last year's Vezina winner, was among five Bruins to work out here under the watchful eye of assistant coach Doug Houda. Trent Whitfield, Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand and Marc Savard also skated. Savard, returning from a fractured bone in his left foot, now has tuned up his legs and hands for two days in a row. Look for him to to back in the lineup next week, either just before or after Thanksgiving.
Prior to Whitfield taking the ice, the 32-year-old center was placed on waivers, likely for the purpose of being sent back to Providence (AHL). His waiver price: $3,375. The other 29 NHL clubs have until noon tomorrow to put in a claim.
This is the second time this season that the clubs have met. Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara, Byron Bitz and Marco Sturm all scored in Boston's 4-2 win at the Garde on Nov. 7. The Bruins followed that with a 3-0 whitewash of Pittsburgh. It was the only time this season that the Bruins have won two in a row.
One of Michael Ryder's two goals in Atlanta came via the power play, allowing the Bruins to bounce off the bottom of the league's overall PPG pile. As of this morning, the Bruins ranked 28th overall on the man-advantage, connecting only 10 times on 72 chances for a 13.9 percent success rate. Only the Penguins (13.7 percent) and Blues (13.3 percent) were more futile.
However, Boston's penalty killing has been exceptional of late, especially since the arrival of ex-Sabre Danny Paille. As of this morning, the Bruins ranked third overall on the PK, rubbing out 84.8 percent of the opposition's chances. Only the Blackhawks (86.3 percent) and Sharks (86 percent) have been better thus far in 2009-'10
Unfortuantely, the Bruins were far too reliant on their PK unit in the third period at Atlanta. Minor penalties to Marco Sturm, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and Dennis Wideman--all guys who should know better--had the Bruins shorthanded five times in the final period.
The Sabres, ranked third in the East with a 12-5-1 record, as of this morning were tied with the Devils for having allowed the fewest goals (43) in the NHL this season.
Matt Hunwick, who picked up Mark Stuart as his new partner in Atlanta, allowing Dennis Wideman to ride with Andrew Ference, has four goals this season. Only nine other NHL defensemen have more. Zdeno Chara, with 57 shots from the backline, ranks second only to Washington's Mike Green (62) for shots on net by defensemen.
Chara last season landed a career-high 216 shots in 80 games. At his current rate, he would finish with 223. Calgary's Dion Phaneuf led the way last season with 277.