BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 21: Ville Leino #23 of the Buffalo Sabres passes the puck in front of Gregory Campbell #11 of the Boston Bruins in the first period during the game at TD Garden on December 21, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Sabres look to slow Bruins’ surge


Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Boston Bruins will head to First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The next time these two teams meet, the Buffalo Sabres are likely to look significantly different. Without a hope of making the playoffs, Buffalo is poised to trade several of its key players, including starting goaltender Ryan Miller, top forward Matt Moulson, and perhaps captain Steve Ott.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday night’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Before that happens though, the Sabres can make life difficult for the Bruins and prevent them from sowing up their season series, which Boston currently leads 2-1 with two games remaining, including tonight’s contest.

As play resumes, Boston has a seven-point edge on the Atlantic Division title, but the second place Tampa Bay Lightning are about to get injured forward Steven Stamkos back and Montreal Canadiens goaltender Caray Price should have returned to North America with plenty of confidence after leading Canda to gold in the 2014 Winter Games.

Under ideal circumstances, the Bruins would like to lock up the division before Tampa Bay, Montreal, and, for that matter, Toronto, have a chance to make things interesting again. Buffalo can certainly make that task a little more difficult for the Bruins tonight.

This will be a battle of backup goaltenders as Tuukka Rask didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo, according to CSN New England.

Rask has never played in more than 45 NHL games in a single season, but he’s already taken part in 43 contests in 2013-14 and is getting some time off to readjust after representing Finland in the Olympics. Part of what Boston would gain by securing the division title with time to spare would be the luxury of frequently resting Rask before what the Bruins hope will be another lengthy playoffs run.

Buffalo will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he enters a critical part of his career. If Miller is traded or leaves as an unrestricted free agent this summer, then Enroth will have a chance to establish himself as the Sabres’ starting goaltender. He hasn’t had an ideal season, but a strong showing against Boston following the break would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

For the Sabres, steps like that are the best they can hope for. If they end up spoiling other teams objectives at the same time, then that would be the icing on the cake for them.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.