Buffalo Sabres vs Boston Bruins 3/18/21 Game Preview

Despite reports of a Sabres staff member and a Boston Bruins player entering the NHL COVID-19 protocol, the game is still on as of the time this piece was posted. There was a report earlier that the game was cancelled, but quickly taken back as confirmation was never provided. This forced both teams to miss their morning skate as each went through rapid testing and contact tracing.

Tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins is a first for many differing reasons:

  • It will be the first game post-Ralph Kreuger as he and Assistant Coach Steve Smith were relieved of their duties Wednesday morning.
  • It will be the first time fans will be allowed in KeyBank Arena.
  • It will also be the first time the Sabres play the Bruins this season, their first of eight total meetings.

Expected Lines

Sabres

Hall-Sheahan-Reinhart

Olofsson-Staal-Thompson

Rieder-Asplund-Okposo

Skinner-Lazar-Mittelstadt

Bryson-Ristolainen

Dahlin-Miller

Irwin-Montour

Hutton

Bruins

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Smith

Ritchie-Coyle-Steen

Frederic-Kuraly-Kuhlman

Grzelcyk-McAvoy

Zboril-Cliffton

Tinordi-Kampfer

Rask

Tale of the Tape

Overall Record: Buffalo (6-18-4, 8th in East Division) vs Boston (15-8-4, 4th in the East Division)

Point Leaders: Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson have 19 points for Buffalo, Brad Marchand has 33 points for Boston

5v5 Goals: Buffalo: 36 (31st) vs Boston: 42 (28th)

Expected Goals-For Percentage: Buffalo 47.43% (23rd) vs Boston 49.95% (17th)

Meet the New Coaches

Don Granato (Interim Head Coach)

Granato went to the University of Wisconsin from 1987-1991, where his brother Tony has been the Head Coach since th 2016-2017 season. After two seasons in the ECHL with the Columbus Chill, it was off to coaching. While this will be his first time as a head coach in the NHL, he’s had plenty of experience in hockey.

Granato’s Head Coaching Experience:

USHL

Wisconsin Capitals: 1993-1994

Green Bay Gamblers 1994-1997

USNP: 2011-16

ECHL

Columbus Chill: 1997-1999

Peoria Rivermen: 1999-00

AHL

Worcester IceCats: 2000-2005

Also, Granato has been an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin and the Chicago Blackhawks before coming to Buffalo. Granato deserves his chance to take over implement his own lineup decisions and system for however long he is at the helm. He doesn’t have the head coaching pedigree in the NHL that most fans desire, but he is in a

Matt Ellis (Interim Assistant Coach)

Many Sabres fans are familiar with Matt Ellis’ past, as most of his playing career was with the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres. Known for his relentless effort and leadership, it is no surprise Ellis has found himself in the coaching ranks. This year has provided a steep incline for Ellis as he began the year as the Jr. Sabres 13U AAA Head Coach. He was then brought on by the Sabres as the Director of Player Development. Finally, Wednesday morning brought Ellis his first opportunity to coach a professional hockey game.

While there is some disdain for bringing back former players to this organization, the Sabres are fortunate to have someone like Ellis able to step into any role he’s been given. Ellis was never the most skilled, but his effort and passion were never in question. He may not be the solution for a long term assistant coach, but Ellis played 14 years of professional hockey, that’s a boatload of knowledge he can continue to pass along.

Ellis’ most notable hockey moment for Sabres fans was the shootout winner at the Frozen Frontier game as the Amerks Captain.

Dan Girardi (Interim Assistant Coach)

Girardi might have been the most surprising of the three, then again he was already with the team as a development coach. The long-time Ranger finished out his playing career with a two year stint in Tampa Bay with the Lightning in 2018-19. His full-time NHL career started in 2007-08 and ended in 2018-19, which is impressive in itself, but Girardi’s teams only missed the playoffs once. Just that alone is the polar opposite of what the this team has behind the bench. That is not intended to be knock against Granato and Ellis, it is just a different element Girardi brings with him to the team.

Girardi not only been in NHL locker rooms, he’s been in consistent playoff team locker rooms. He knows what it takes for a team to not only make the playoffs once, but sustain success and any knowledge he can pass along to the Sabres players is plus.

Here’s a clip from NHL Network back in October mentioning his transition playing to coaching and what he was like as a teammate.

A Look At The Bruins

It feels weird seeing the Bruins for the first time this late in the year, with so many games to play between the two. At the same time, so does everything else about this season.

The Bruins are carried by their big three of Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak, with Charlie McAvoy leading the way offensively and defensively on the back end. The Bruins have been struggling with the 5v5 scoring this season much like the Sabres, there are a few areas in which they excel.

Boston has allowed the 3rd fewest shots against in the league with 511. To show that’s not just attributed to playing less games than other teams, they’re also 3rd in the league in shots for % at 54.48%. Basically, 54.4% if the shots taken in a game the Bruins are playing are theirs. Comparatively, the Sabres are 28th in the league with 46.84% of the shots in their games belonging to Buffalo.

Another significant part of the Bruins game is their penalty kill. Boston leads the league with a 89.3% penalty kill rate, which will likely combat the ailing power play of the Sabres well.

Post-Krueger Changes

While it would be unreasonable to expect much of a change in the Sabres’ game tonight, it’ll at least be fun to try and note some differences. Were there habits instilled in Krueger’s system we could start to see break? Funneling less shots from the point? Gaining the zone with possession rather than dump-ins?

Systematic differences will likely be hard to tell, but Granato illustrated how the Sabres can begin to make incremental improvement:

Hall “Open to anything” despite Krueger firing

Taylor Hall echoed Kevyn Adams sentiment of the two sides being “open to anything,” as we approach the trade deadline on April 12th. It’s fair to question why Hall would want to return to Buffalo at the end of his contract, especially after Ralph Krueger, whom Hall had a connection with before signing here, was fired this week. But, Hall didn’t back off from his statement that he enjoys Buffalo and is open to an extension:

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