The Buffalo Sabres come to the Garden on Tuesday with a sub-.500 record, but the Bruins aren't fooled by the overall numbers. Buffalo has won three of its last four games, including back-to-back shutouts over the weekend by reigning Vezina winner Ryan Miller.
"I think they're a much better team now than they were the last time we played them," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Their goaltender is obviously finding his game again. I don't think we'll be looking at this as an easy game or an easy win. It's a matter of us hopefully taking the approach that we need to bounce back from a loss and start the week on the right foot."
The Bruins didn't have their best effort on Saturday in Toronto, but they still nearly escaped with the win. Instead, the Leafs tied the game with a power-play goal in the final minute, then won in a shootout to snap a two-game win streak for the Bruins.
The Bruins have played just six of their first 25 games against divisional opponents, and are just 3-2-1 in those games. That makes this matchup with last year's division champ even more important.
"They're huge," said Mark Recchi of the divisional games. "You just look at the standings and you can tell every game in your division is very important right now. We've got to keep climbing. We're not satisfied with where we're at right now. We've got to keep moving up the ladder and it starts [Tuesday] with Buffalo. They're playing a lot better then they were earlier in the year, so we've got to be ready."
When and Where
Boston Bruins (14-8-3, 31 points) vs. Buffalo Sabres (11-13-3, 25 points)
Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. (VERSUS)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
Head to Head
This is the second of six meetings this season between the Northeast Division rivals. The Bruins prevailed in the first up in Buffalo, winning 5-2 as Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder each had a goal and an assist. Last year the Bruins went 4-2-0 against the Sabres, then ousted division-winning Buffalo in six games in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins lead the all-time series 115-103-29-5, and are 69-41-14-1 at home against Buffalo.
Tim Thomas continues to fill highlight reels with his acrobatic saves, with perhaps none better than his overtime diving glove save to rob Toronto's Francois Beauchemin on Saturday. Thomas is now 13-2-2 with a 1.46 GAA, .956 save percentage and five shutouts. He's just 7-9-2 with a 3.17 GAA and an .896 save percentage against the Sabres, but did make 33 saves in a 5-2 win on Nov. 3. Tuukka Rask is just 1-6-1 with a 2.59 GAA and a .926 save percentage this season, but is an impressive 4-1-0 with a 1.43 GAA and a .954 save percentage against the Sabres.
For the Sabres, Ryan Miller might be the only goalie hotter than Thomas, as he has posted back-to-back shutouts in his last two games. For the season, the reigning Vezina winner is 9-7-2 with a 2.26 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He's also 16-5-6 with a 2.53 GAA and a .914 save percentage against the Bruins. Backup Patrick Lalime is 0-4-0 with a 3.03 GAA and an .891 save percentage, though he is 10-6-3 with a 2.75 GAA and a .908 save percentage against Boston in his career.
- Shawn Thornton has made noise with his surprising five goals so far this season. But the Bruins tough guy is also on a pace to set a career high in hits as well. After registering 110 in 74 games last year and a career-best 114 in 79 games in 2008-09, Thornton already has 54 in 25 games this year. That's an average of 2.16 a game, putting him on a pace for 177 hits this season.
- Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but has come on of late. He scored his first goal of the season last Thursday when he faked a dump-in to the corner, then fired a shot from outside the blue line into the vacated net. But he's also picked up the pace in a state he's accustomed to accumulating. He now leads the Bruins and is fifth in the NHL with 62 blocked shots. That puts him on pace for 203, which is still a little off his league-leading 215 last season.
- Nathan Horton finally seems to be getting his offense back on track. On Thursday, he chipped in an assist for his first point in seven games. On Saturday, he scored his first goal in 10 games at Toronto. He still has solid 9-11-20 totals in 25 games, but he had 8-10-18 in his first 17 games.
- Buffalo will be looking to win three straight games for the first time this season on Tuesday. Last year, the Sabres had nine separate streaks of at least three wins, including six of four wins or more.
- Towering defenseman Tyler Myers won the Calder Trophy last year as the NHL's top rookie, but he's had a hard time maintaining that level of performance as a sophomore. After posting 11-37-48 totals and finishing second on the Sabres with a plus-13 last year, he has 5-3-8 totals and is a team-worst minus-10 in 27 games this season. He had leveled off somewhat from a rough start, as he was minus-10 in 12 games in October, but is even in 15 games since.
- Forward Thomas Vanek has also overcome a slow start to get back to his customary numbers. He had just 4-3-7 totals in his first 15 games, but is 6-8-14 over his last 12. He also has thrilled against the Bruins, with 19-18-37 totals and a plus-14 in 35 games, plus two goals and an assist in three games in the playoffs as a leg injury cost him three other games and greatly hampered Buffalo's offense in its first-round loss to the Bruins.
- Left wing Marco Sturm (knee surgery) is expected to be out until at least late December.
- Center Trent Whitfield (ruptures Achilles) could miss the entire year.
- Forward Rob Niedermayer (knee surgery) is on injured reserve.
- Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (head) is questionable for Tuesday's game.
- Forward Tim Connolly (groin) is doubtful for Tuesday's game.
- Forward Drew Stafford (upper body) is questionable for Tuesday's game.
Buffalo defensemen Steve Montador and Shaone Morrisonn each played briefly for the Bruins, with Montador coming over at the trade deadline in 2009 and Morrisonn playing 41 games from 2002-04 after being drafted in the first round in 2001. He was traded to Washington for Sergei Gonchar in 2004, and signed with the Sabres this summer. Forward Mike Grier hails from Holliston, Mass. and played at Boston University, while Nathan Gerbe played at Boston College. Colin Stuart, the brother of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, played three games with the Sabres last month, but was sent down to Portland (AHL) on Nov. 29. Bruins forward Daniel Paille was a first-round pick of the Sabres in 2002 and played 195 games with Buffalo before being traded to Boston last year. Bruins assistant coach Doug Houda played for the Sabres and coached their AHL affiliate in Rochester, while assistant GM Jim Benning spent 12 seasons in the Buffalo organization, serving as the Sabres' director of amateur scouting for eight years.
The Sabres have just 12 fighting majors through 27 games, but seven of them have come in the last seven games. Cody McCormick leads the way with seven fights, while Patrick Kaleta and Montador each have two and Paul Gaustad one. The Bruins have almost twice as many fights in two less games, with 23 fighting majors. Thornton leads with six, while Greg Campbell, Mark Stuart and Adam McQuaid each have three and Milan Lucic has two. The first meeting produced one fight, with McCormick instigating a fight with Stuart after the Bruins defenseman dumped Kaleta. Last year, the six games between the division rivals produced five fights, including three by Thornton, who took on Montadar, Gaustad and Craig Rivet, while Lucic fought Adam Mair and Stuart battled Jochen Hecht. In the playoffs, Lucic scrapped with Rivet, Vladimir Sobotka fought Andrej Sekera and Zdeno Chara went after Gaustad, who did not receive a fighting major.
The Bruins will look to get the bitter taste for Saturday's setback in Toronto out of their mouths with a better showing against the Sabres. But Buffalo won't be an easy team to beat as the Sabres come in red hot with back-to-back shutout wins over Columbus and Ottawa. This one could be an epic goaltending duel with the last two Vezina winners on the ice, and both of them are playing some of the best hockey of their careers right now.