Sabres enter clash with Bruins in unfamiliar position of being ahead in standings

Undefeated Buffalo looks to put history past them in bout with Boston

Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres (left) and Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins (right) fight for the puck in a May 1 game. Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Very little is known in this young NHL season, but one thing that is certain is the Buffalo Sabres are off to their best start in the last 13 years at 3-0-0.

Their opponent on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET, the visiting Boston Bruins, enter the game with even less clarity, given they have played a league-low two games, winning their opener 3-1 against the Dallas Stars and dropping their first road game 6-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night.

The Bruins will be the first opponent the Sabres play that they have a history with from last year as a division rival, as they dispatched the Montreal Canadiens 5-1, the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout, and the Canucks 5-2, three teams that have combined for a 1-8-2 start on the year.

There isn’t much positivity to draw from for the Sabres in terms of last season’s match-up, as they went 1-6-1 against the Bruins, with their leading scorer in the season series being Sam Reinhart, a player the Sabres traded to the Florida Panthers in the off-season. The only goalie the Sabres featured in the match-up that had any level of statistical success was Linus Ullmark with a .923 save percentage, and he will be heading to the visiting dressing room when the Bruins enter KeyBank Center.

That is not to say that the Bruins aren’t entering the match-up without key departures of their own, as longtime pivot (and the only player to put up 12 points against the Sabres last year alongside Norris winner Adam Fox) David Krejci opted to play in the Czech Republic this season. Ullmark also enters his first game of the season in a very shaky position, giving up 10 goals on just 62 shots in the pre-season, ultimately conceding the crease to rookie Jeremy Swayman in Boston’s first two games.

It’s difficult to find any holes in Buffalo’s statistical resume to start the year. The Sabres are perfect on the penalty kill, clicking at 36.4 per cent on the power play, and, maybe more importantly, rank first in the league in both shot attempts against and expected goals against per 60 minutes after ranking 24th and 25th, respectively, in those categories last year, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Kyle Okposo and linemate Zemgus Girgensons have controlled play when on the ice, and Okposo has already matched his goal total (two) from last year. Early returns for former first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin have also been promising, as he looks very comfortable anchoring the Sabres blue-line.

On the Bruins end, they’ve started fairly stingy themselves, ranking second and sixth in shot attempts against and expected goals against, but ugly puck management against the Flyers, particularly by second pairing defenceman Mike Reilly, cost them multiple goals against.

The Bruins vaunted top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak looks both as dangerous and as impenetrable as ever, as they are the only three players in the NHL that have played at least 20 even-strength minutes without giving up a high-danger scoring chance against (while producing seven of their own), according to Natural Stat Trick. While Marchand has produced with three goals already, that success hasn’t translated to the power play, where the top line has looked out of sync with top defenceman Charlie McAvoy and former Sabre Taylor Hall.

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Posted: Oct 21 2021 9:39 pm
Filed under: Hockey Sports