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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Tuesday December 7th

Opening up a three-game homestand, the Bruins (14-8-3) will host division rivals, the Buffalo Sabres (11-13-3) on Causeway Street this evening.

The B’s were left with a very sour taste in their mouths Saturday, after what was mostly a very good week for the team. After big wins over the Flyers and Lightning, the team looked poised to grab their third victory of the week up in Toronto. But, leading 2-1 in the final minute, the Leafs were able to even the score on a power play goal. Then, after a scoreless overtime period, it was former Bruin Phil Kessel who flipped the game-winner past Tim Thomas for the shootout victory, 3-2. What a shame, considering how unbelievable some of the saves Tim Thomas made were. If you missed them, Google them… it’s worth your time.

For Buffalo, it looks as if they might be finally hitting their stride, after scuffling through the first quarter of the season. Winners of three of their last four, the Sabres are riding a long hot streak, not having given up a goal in over 147 minutes. That streak includes back-to-back shutouts by U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Miller, who is back in action, healthy after dealing with hip and groin injuries earlier this year. They were Miller’s first back-to-back shutouts since the 2008 season.

As with most divisional games, there are plenty of storylines to tackle, heading into this big matchup, so let’s get right to it with some pregame notes…

– This is the second of six meetings between these two combatants this season. In Buffalo on November 3rd, the B’s lit the lamp five times against backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth, en route to a 5-2 win over the Sabres.

– Odds are Enroth (2-2-1, 2.89GAA) will be back in that backup role this evening, with the Sabres likely to continue riding the hot hand of Ryan Miller (9-7-2, 2.26GAA). Because Boston held just an optional team skate this morning, we don’t know for sure who will start in goal for Boston, but all signs point to Tim Thomas getting the nod, taking on his Olympic teammate from this past winter.

– Injuries have been a problem lately for Buffalo, with a handful of key team members in and out of the lineup as of late. Forwards Tim Connolly (groin) and Rob Niedermayer (knee) remain out for the Sabres, while winger Drew Stafford is considered day-to-day, after injuring his shoulder in Friday’s game, which was his first game back after missing the previous 11 with another upper-body injury. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been out with head and neck injuries, but is expected to return to the lineup this evening.

– Scoring for Buffalo is led by center Derek Roy (9G, 17A), followed by winger Thomas Vanek (10G, 11A) and defenseman Jordan Leopold (7G, 9A).

– The Sabres’ power play has powered up lately, currently on a 5-for-12 scoring streak. Despite the recent success, the team still ranks just 21st on the man-advantage, at 15.2%. Boston, incidentally, sits 13th in the NHL on the power play, at 16.7%.

– You won’t find too many Sabres listed as league leaders atop many of the key statistics around the league right now, with one surprising exception… former Bruin, Steve Montador. Montador, who sucked as a Bruin, plain and simple, is currently tied for second in the league with a plus/minus rating of +16. He trails only Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla.

– A quick note on the Boston front… you’ll notice one young Bruin missing from the lineup, as rookie Jordan Caron was optioned down to Providence Monday. Caron had been a healthy scratch the past two games, since the return of center Marc Savard.

– Now, a bit of news with several links to local Massachusetts hockey… yesterday, veteran forward Bill Guerin announced his retirement from the NHL. The 40-year-old Guerin registered 429 goals in his 18 NHL seasons, playing for eight different teams. One of those teams was of course the Bruins, albeit for a shorter stay than most of us would have preferred. Guerin came to the B’s in a trade from Edmonton back in November of 2000. He finished out that season with the B’s, and stayed for one full season in 2001-02, when he set a career high for himself, notching 41 goals on the year. Not only did Guerin play for the Bruins, he also grew up in central Mass., Wilbraham to be exact, and attended Boston College for a few seasons before turning pro. He won two Stanley Cups in his long career, first in ’95 with the Devils, then in ’09 with Pittsburgh. He also was a member of the U.S. Olympic hockey squad on three occasions, in ’98, ’02, and ’06. Guerin, who already does broadcasting work on Versus, hasn’t decided what he’ll do next, but is expected to either continue his work in broadcasting, or shift to the scouting and player personnel side of hockey.

– Lastly, speaking of Versus, just a heads-up that tonight’s game is NOT on NESN; it can only be found on Versus. Also, the start time is 7:30, not the usual 7:00. And once again, sorry Jack Edwards fans, but you’ll be Jack-less for tonight’s game. Joe Beninati will be on the play-by-play instead, but Versus is hooking us up with Andy Brickley as tonight’s color commentator.

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