Bruce Boudreau, Dan Bylsma’s personalities may shine in HBO’s 24/7 series, which premieres tonight

If you ask people around the game of hockey, most will probably admit that – for all the game’s many strengths, including the character of its players – it’s not very often that we get to learn much about how much character each player and coach displays.

Most of the time, the game’s biggest stars either lean heavily on cliches (like Sidney Crosby) or struggle a bit considering the fact that English isn’t their first language (like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin). Sure, every now and then a vibrant talker comes along like Patrick Kane or Jeremy Roenick, but most of the time an interview only illuminates a person’s expertise in saying exactly what the PR staff wants to hear.

Getting to know two of the league’s most talented young teams is one of the main reasons that people are so excited about HBO’s “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic.” (The other being that it’s HBO, the network that seems like it has a Midas touch right now.)

While there will be some interesting chats with oddballs such as Maxime Talbot, the true stars could end up being coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma. Chris Botta of the New York Times’ Slap Shot blog provides an inside look at the series, which premieres tonight on HBO at 10 pm ET.

If this four-act play features enough drama, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin could see their fame extend beyond hockey nation. The teams both have plenty of funny and insightful “character actors,” from Pascal Dupuis and Eric Godard in Pittsburgh to Brooks Laich and D.J. King in Washington, who will undoubtedly emerge as leading players.

Although the eminently quotable Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was picked by most pundits to become the breakout star of “24/7,” watch out for the man behind the home team bench. Despite leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, Dan Bylsma is far from a household name — even in Pittsburgh. But he is an original thinker, a charismatic figure and more than a little quirky. So far, he has enjoyed the HBO life.

“We’ve encouraged the guys to make the most of the experience,” Bylsma said of having every word and image captured for broadcast. “This is something we’ll look back on years from now and appreciate. We’re going to enjoy the moment.”

I worked with Bylsma for one season when he was an assistant coach with the Islanders in 2003-4. Although assistants are more comfortable to be themselves than the head coach, Bylsma is quite the free spirit. If, as advertised, HBO’s cameras will be everywhere around the Penguins for these four weeks, you’ll get to see what I mean.

It should be a lot of fun to watch.

Video: Eichel’s first career NHL goal

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Didn’t take long for Jack Eichel to make his mark at the NHL level.

The No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft scored his first-ever NHL goal in his first-ever NHL game on Thursday night, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 2-1 in the third period of Buffalo’s season-opener.

Marcus Foligno and another new Sabre, Evander Kane, registered the assists on Eichel’s marker, which came on the power play.


Tough start: Lehner knocked out of Sabres debut, won’t return

Matt Puempel, Alex Chiasson, Robin Lehner
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Chances are Robin Lehner won’t look back fondly on his first game as a Sabre.

Midway through Buffalo’s season-opener against Ottawa, Lehner — facing his old team for the first time since getting traded this summer — suffered a lower-body injury, and was forced from the contest.

During the second intermission, the Sabres ruled out Lehner for the night.

It was a difficult turn of events for 24-year-old, who admitted he was keen to go up against the Sens. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his time in the Canadian capital; Lehner felt he never got a full opportunity to run with the No. 1 gig, and probably wasn’t thrilled GM Bryan Murray opted to keep Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond instead of him.

As for tonight’s injury, details are scarce. All that’s known is the ailment was serious enough for Lehner to leave and not return, forcing backup Chad Johnson into duty.

Prior to getting hurt, Lehner had stopped 11 of 12 shots faced.