BUFFALO — Good afternoon from the Bruins’ hotel just north of downtown. The Black-and-Gold gathered for a late-morning meeting in a hotel banquet room, coach Claude Julien opting not to put his charges through their paces in a traditional morning practice session at HSBC Arena.
The first game of the New Year finds the Bruins leading the Northeast Division by three points over Montreal and with two games in hand over Les Glorieux. A fairly comfortable start to 2011, with the B’s parked in third in the overall Eastern Confererence standings by virtue of their divisional lead. In terms of overall points, the Bruins rank seventh in the conference.
Tuukka Rask will get a rare call to the Boston net this evening here against the backsliding Sabres, dealt a serious blow in recent days when top gunner Derek Roy was sidelined for the season with a torn quad muscle. Already challenged to score goals, the Sabres will have to work ever harder to manufacture offensive production.
The Bruins start the new year with an impressive plus-25 goal differential, with 102 goals scored and only 77 yielded to their opponents. Pittsburgh, slated to play at 8 p.m. in the Winter Classic against Washington, leads the East with a plus-35, followed by the Caps at plus-26.
Following tonight’s contest, the Bruins will bus across the border to Toronto, practice there late Sunday morning, then take on the languishing Leafs Monday evening at the ACC in the five-game road trip wrapup.
Puck drop: 7 p.m.
Record: Bruins, 20-11-5; Sabres, 15-8-4
TV/radio info: NESN (Jack Edwards, Andy Brickley, Naoko Funayama), 98.5 The Sports Hub (Dave Goucher, Bob Beers)
Milan Lucic-Marc Savard-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Blake Wheeler-David Krejci-Michael Ryder
Danny Paille-Tyler Seguin-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg-Steven Kampfer
Andrew Ference-Adam McQuaid
Likely scratch: Greg Campbell
Storylines: After one of their top performances of the season Thursday night in Atlanta, where they fell in a shootout, will the Bruins continue the same pluck and determination they fashioned against the Thrashers?….Rask in need of a ”foundation” game, re-establishing himself as the top-end puckstopper. He was Boston ‘s No. 1 much of last season. The Finnish backstop has been good at times this seasson, but often ordinary, and ordinary doesn’t cut it at this level…With Roy sidelined, the Sabres need Tim Connolly to be a true No. 1 pivot. They’ve waited a long time for the former first-round pick (No. 5, 1999, Islanders) to be a dominant player. He will turn 30 in May. If not now, then when?…The NHL game tonight in HSBC is a rarity these days, with the World Junior Championship dominating the local puck scene. The kids take over the digs again on Sunday and the tourney wraps up on Wednesday–perhaps with a second USA gold medal…Ryan Miller likely between the pipes for the Sabres. Miller and Tim Thomas, getting a well-deserved night off, suited up just under a year ago for the Team USA at the Vancouver Olympics. No red-white-and-blue reunion/rivalry tonight…The dogged Brad Marchand received increased ice time in Atlanta. He is not a classic top six forward, by any stretch, but it’s obvious things happen when he is on the ice. That factor alone could put some heat on some of the club’s wingers who are expected to contribute more on offense…Everyday Bruins correspondent Fluto Shinzawa back in Hub, enjoying well-deserved rest. Reports from downtown Hub leasing agency have Flutedog Hero renting 52-inch plasma for the evening, enabling him to take in both Bruins-Sabres and Winter Classic from Pittsburgh. Frugal Fluto hopes to time rental so he also can take in early games of NFL Sunday, return set with only a 24-hour charge.
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