Get your game notes: Bruins at Sabres

This evening on NBCSN, it’s the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Boston Bruins starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

— Boston, 1st in the Atlantic Division, visits Buffalo, last in the Atlantic Division, in the fourth of five meetings this season – Bruins have won two of the three meetings including the most recent matchup, 4-1 in Boston on Dec. 21, but lost the last meeting in Buffalo, 4-2 on Dec. 19.

— Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 win at home last night over Carolina, the first game on the NHL calendar post-Olympics. The win snapped an eight-game home losing streak for the Sabres dating back to Jan. 4 & improved their home record to 10-17-5; only the N.Y. Islanders (8-14-8 at home) have fewer home wins this season. Buffalo’s 17 regulation home losses are the most in the NHL.

— Four Sabres returned from competing in Sochi: Henrik Tallinder (SWE), Ryan Miller (USA), Zemgus Girgensons (LAT) & Jhonas Enroth (SWE), while five Bruins also participated in the Olympics: Patrice Bergeron (CAN), Zdeno Chara (SVK), Loui Eriksson (SWE), David Krejci (CZE) & Tuukka Rask (FIN).

  • Tallinder, playing in his second Olympics (2010) won his first medal (silver) playing alongside teammate & first-time Olympian Enroth.
  • Bergeron, playing in his second Olympics (2010), now has two gold medals – he played in each of Canada’s 6 games in Sochi & registered 2 assists. Eriksson (2G-A), also in his second Olympics (2010), won his first medal (silver) while Rask (3-1, 1 SO) picked up a bronze in his Olympic debut as Finland came in third for the second straight Games.
  • Sabres coach Ted Nolan led Latvia to the nation’s first-ever quarterfinal Olympic game, a 2-1 loss to Canada. Their 8th-place finish was the best in the country’s five Olympic appearances.
  • 63 NHLers – representing 25 of the league’s 30 clubs – won a medal
  • ANA, BOS & PHX were the only teams to have players win the gold, silver and bronze.

— Boston last played on Feb. 8, a 7-2 home win over OTT, & last played on the road on Feb. 6, a 3-2 OT loss at St. Louis. The Bruins won their previous road game, 6-3, at NYI on Jan. 27. Boston went into the Olympic break having earned at least one point in 10 of their last 11 games (8-1-2). Buffalo, before winning last night, had lost 4 straight in regulation & went 2-8-3 in their last 13 before the break.

— Tuukka Rask (BOS) did not travel with the team as he was given the game off to rest post-Olympics. Rask was under the weather in Sochi & did not play in Finland’s semifinal game against Sweden but returned to pitch a 27-save shutout against the U.S. in a 5-0 bronze-medal-game win. Chad Johnson (11-3-0 this season) will start in net tonight for the Bruins; he last was in goal on Feb. 8 (7-2 win over OTT). Johnson started in two of the three meetings against Buffalo this season (his only career games vs. the Sabres), winning on the road on Oct. 23, 5-2, and then losing at Buffalo on Dec. 19, 4-2.

— Jhonas Enroth (1-12-5 on the season) is expected to be in net for the Sabres in place of Ryan Miller, who backed up Jonathan Quick on team USA in Sochi & stopped 36 of 38 shots last night (& added 2 assists). In his career, Enroth is 0-4-2 against Boston & lost 4-1 on Dec. 21 in his only meeting against them this season. He dressed in five of six games in Sochi but Ranger Henrik Lundqvist was in net the entire tournament for Sweden. Enroth last played on Feb. 6 at OTT in a 3-2 loss.

— Buffalo is last in the league in scoring, 1.84 goals/game (L.A. is next at 2.25) & have the worst goal differential at -1.09 (FLA is next at -0.79). Boston averages 3.07 goals/game (5th-best) with a 0.93 goal differential (2nd-best). The Bruins have the second best goals allowed per game mark at 2.14 this season and the best team save percentage, .927.

Bruised Bruins get Bergeron and Backes back, at least

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On paper, a game against old chums the Vancouver Canucks would probably be an assumed W for the Boston Bruins.

It hasn’t been safe to assume much during an up-and-down start so far, and that goes straight down to injuries, as Bruins news seems to rotate with the bad and the good.

In the case of Thursday, the good and the bad seem to come in hour rotations rather than days. Earlier, the unfortunate news came: Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a concussion, adding to the rough news about Ryan Spooner.

If Anton Khudobin struggles and the Bruins need to outscore their problems, at least they’re getting reinforcements in that regard, as both David Backes and Patrice Bergeron are back in action.

One would expect Bergeron to resume much of his puck-mastery tonight, or at least soon, even if he might take a while to improve after a 2016-17 season he wasn’t totally pleased with.

(Bergeron was probably in the minority there, what with winning the Selke Trophy and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating opponents.)

Backes might be most interesting to watch. He reportedly lost 10 lbs. because of diverticulitis, so you wonder if he’ll be limited for a while. He’s trying to bounce back from 2016-17 in a more objective way than Bergeron, after all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ric Flair replica robe awarded to Flyers game MVPs (Photo)

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NHL teams love handing out a player of the game awards to someone who played an important role in a victory. The tradition has been going on for years and the items have ranged from football helmets to camouflage jackets to championship belts to wolf heads to weenie hats.

The Philadelphia Flyers are one of those teams taking part in the post-game tradition and have chosen a very unique item to honor game MVPs this season.

In honor of one of wrestling’s greats, game MVPs will receive a Ric Flair replica robe.

Spend time inside Wells Fargo Center for a Flyers game and you’ll hear fans unleashing plenty of Flair’s famous “woo’s” — something that kind of pissed off the players as recent as last season..

“I hope it’s a short-lived fad,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol last November.

“The first period they are [expletive] woo’ing. What are you, [expletive] 10-years old?,” opined Jakub Voracek.

Maybe the players had a change of heart and have embraced the “woo’s?” Now that the robe, which was designed by the daughter of equipment manager Derek Settlemyre, will be a regular thing, one can imagine an uptick in the “Nature Boy’s” famous call done by fans during games.

Flair, 68, was hospitalized in August as he entered the early stages of kidney failure and congestive heart failure. He was released last month after doctors removed part of his bowel and inserted a pacemaker. An ESPN documentary about his life and wrestling career will premier in November.

Stick-tap NBC Philadelphia

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

(Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

Lean on workhorse goalies

In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

Old over new

It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

(Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

Avoid the Gaboriks

Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

(Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

Find some quick references

Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

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It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

(Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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