It was game 1 of the World Series. Yawn. Since our pickup game was canceled in part due to the aforementioned sport—eh recreational—event, it was going to be either a work night or an early night. Fortunately, the Bruins came to the rescue by taking on the Sabres. It’s a good thing it was on NBCSports/Versus instead of NESN, where viewers would have been bombarded with a constant barrage of WS updates, even though the network TV announcers are downright annoying. The Bruins welcome the undefeated Sharks tomorrow at home, but tonight would be a Bear-Buffalo grudge match.
The game was billed as a Wednesday Rivalry Game. The Bruins’ record was 5-2 and the Sabres 1-8-1, so these were clearly two teams headed in different directions. In fact, it hasn’t been much of a rivalry since they last faced each other in the 2nd round of the 2009-10 playoffs. The Sabres have not made the playoffs in the last two years. They have the second worst record in the league. The only other team with a similarly dismal record, the Broadstreet Bumblers, got their coach fired just 3 games into the season. Nevertheless, the Sabres were one of the few teams with a winning record against the Bruins last season and, like the Canadiens, always seem to find ways to beat the Bruins.
But it wouldn’t happen tonight. Just from this game, it was clear why they’ve been struggling. They were terrible in their zone. They got beat to the puck. They got beat in one-on-one battles. They weren’t strong enough on the puck carrier to get it back. On offense, they weren’t playing as a team. Skilled guys tried to make plays by themselves. Cody Hodgson tried to take on 4 Bruins defenders on the power play—that doesn’t work even in peewee hockey. Guys were taking themselves off-sides. They were a terribly disorganized team who seemed unfocused and unconfident. And then there was John Scott, a 6’8, 260-lb monster who looks vaguely like Liev Schreiber. By NHL standards, he can barely skate (even though he’s better than every normal person and probably most minor leaguers). He’s there to intimidate and even terrorize. Just ask Phil Kessel. Admittedly, in hockey, particularly “old-time hockey”, being intimidating can sometimes have as much of an impact as being skillful.
The lone bright spot for the Sabres had to be Ryan Miller. The Bruins had odd-man rushes all night. Despite the lopsided score, it would have been much worse if it weren’t for him. He made several outstanding saves that would have gotten by lesser goalies. The most sparkling save was on a tic-tac-toe play that started on one side of the net and ended on the other with with David Krejci catching the puck on his backhand and quickly flipping it with his forehand, only to be robbed by Miller’s glove. Of the goals he gave up, three were perfect backdoor plays that he had no chance on. One he would have stopped if his stick hadn’t been pushed out of position by a falling teammate. Only the last one was somewhat saveable, but by then the game was out of reach.
The Bruins’ 5-2 victory was marred by an ugly incident. Long after he had released the puck, Loui Eriksson was blindsided by Scott with a hit to the head that spun him around and knocked him to the ground. He struggled to get up but stumbled, clearly disoriented. This is a scary hit that was eerily reminiscent of the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard that ended Savard’s promising career. Eriksson was woozy and had to be helped off the ice. One can only hope that his long-term health isn’t compromised. He’s undoubtedly lost for tomorrow night’s game, if not longer. This type of hits, where the “head is the principal area of contact”, is something the league has been trying to stamp out. Already several multi-game suspensions have been handed out this season for similar plays. It’s quite expected that the league will come down hard on Scott.
The Bruins responded with Adam McQuaid tackling Scott and wrestling him down. Perhaps that was enough. I’m not one to demand that the Bruins respond to a dirty play with dirty plays of their own. It’s important to many hockey fans that the team stand up for their teammates. After the Savard incident, the Bruins were criticized by some for their lack of response. Maybe Shawn Thornton will take on Scott the next time they meet (provided Scott is playing), but it wouldn’t be good for Thornton given that Scott is in a totally different weight class. Maybe someone will engage Steve Ott, another dirty Sabre (his sucker punch on Krejci went unnoticed by the refs). I really think a more measured response is to make them pay on the scoreboard. The Bruins did just that, by scoring a goal on the PP resulting from Scott’s major penalty. If Scott’s action was a intended as “message-sending”, it already failed, because experience has shown that when faced with adversity, this team becomes stronger.