The Bruins fell short in their second preseason game, losing to the Sabers, 4-1, Tuesday night at KeyBank Center.
Oskar Steen scored the Bruins’ lone goal at 17:57 of the third period, while starting goaltender Kyle Keyser stopped 20 of 22 shots faced in the loss. Michael DiPietro replaced Keyser in net during the second period, finishing with 11 saves on 12 shots.
Here are some takeaways from Boston’s preseason fight in Buffalo.
Lots of passengers
Boston’s preseason opener against the Rangers was encouraging on several fronts, with several prospects, Brandon Bussi, Matthew Poitras and Johnny Beecher, all making strong first impressions on the ice.
Tuesday’s follow-up performance in Buffalo was much more subdued. Beyond a few stars, Boston’s roster — particularly its younger players — struggled to make much of an impact in what was a sleepy loss to the Sabres.
After the game, Jim Montgomery noted on the NESN broadcast that he was impressed with Jesper Boqvist’s skating and two-way play, while Beecher posted another strong performance (15:21 TOI, one penalty zero, two blocks) as he tried to defend his arguments. the center spot on the team’s fourth line.
But it was a quiet night for much of Boston’s attacking corps, with Oskar Steen’s late goal serving as the lone spark to a largely disjointed attack, particularly in the first 40 minutes of play.
Despite Steen’s considerable efforts with his net scoring, a line consisting of him, Danton Heinen and Georgii Merkulov struggled to make much of an impact in 5v5 play. In their 4:03 playing time together, the Sabers held the advantage in goals scored, 1-0, and shot attempts, 6-1.
It was far from an ideal start for two PTO candidates, Heinen and Alex Chiasson (15:20 TOI, minus-1 rating), while Merkulov had some extended lulls in the O-zone against Buffalo.
For all of Montgomery’s talk about wanting Boston to play with both pace and a renewed emphasis on physicality, the Bruins recorded just nine total hits against Buffalo.
Just two games into the preseason, the Bruins aren’t necessarily fielding the most complete roster at this point in the summer.
But Montgomery and his team are looking for AHL regulars, PTO players and some bubble candidates to make their decisions tougher when it comes to cut day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for most of Tuesday’s game.
Promise on the blue line
It was far from a stellar night when it came to coverage of Boston’s D-zone. But the Bruins received a boost on the blue line thanks to the play of Mason Lohrei and Ian Mitchell.
The Bruins clearly had no qualms about giving Lohrei significant minutes in his preseason debut. The 22-year-old defenseman finished the game with 29:01 of ice time, with Mitchell ranking second on the team with 19:38.
Lohrei finished with an even score, two shots on goal and the first assist on Steen’s goal after firing a puck through traffic from the point.
As expected, there were a few bumps along the way for Lohrei, who will need to continue to refine his D-zone game and decision-making to handle the pace of the NHL.
Still, Boston appears determined to put Lohrei under a heavy workload during the preseason. Expect this to continue moving forward, although he probably needs some seasoning in Providence to open the year.
Mitchell, who landed in Boston via the trade with Chicago involving Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno, was active throughout the game. He made a few outlet passes to try to spark Boston’s offense, and also regularly jumped into the game when needed. He finished with a team-high nine shot attempts on Tuesday.
Grzelcyk fears injuries
Just days after Boston lost Patrick Brown and Jakub Zboril to injury in their preseason opener, the Bruins temporarily lost another starting defenseman on Tuesday, Matt Grzelcyk.
Grzelcyk, one of the few NHL regulars on Tuesday’s lineup, left the game in the second period after grabbing the puck below the belt. The 29-year-old defender made his way down the tunnel and didn’t return for the rest of the middle period.
But Boston received some good news, as Grzelcyk returned in the third period and ultimately logged 15:45 of ice time on Tuesday. Grzelcyk got high marks from Montgomery on the NESN broadcast, with the Charlestown native being heralded with his transition game and puck-moving abilities.
Montgomery also said Tuesday morning that Brown and Zboril are not expected to miss time. Brown practiced Tuesday, while Zboril is expected to return to the ice Wednesday.
Devon Levi impresses for Buffalo
Tuesday could have been a sign of things to come for the Bruins when it comes to matchups against the Sabers this season.
Buffalo has seen growth over the past two seasons, thanks in large part to an influx of high-level young talent. But the Sabres’ Achilles heel has been a years-long shortage of competent goaltenders dating back to the days of Ryan Miller.
Finally, the Sabers have hope in 21-year-old goaltender (and Northeast product) Devon Levi. Levi impressed in his two periods of play against Boston on Tuesday, stopping all 19 shots while rarely getting out of position in front of the net.
Expectations are high for Levi, who posted an excellent .943 save percentage over two seasons (66 games) with the Huskies. But if he can establish himself as a proven number one goaltender, an already promising Sabers team can take another step forward in the Atlantic Division.
This should scare the rest of the division, especially clubs like the Bruins and Lightning who are trying to strengthen against emerging rosters.
It was a rough night for defenseman Ryan Mast, who was in the trash can for Buffalo’s first goal of the night, then inadvertently deflected the Sabres’ second goal past Keyser 43 seconds into the second period.
Pretty good pace from Milan Lucic in his first game with the Bruins since April 2015. The veteran forward won’t win many foot races, but he was regularly engaged on the ice. Judging by the reception in Buffalo every time he touched a puck, Lucic steamrolling Ryan Miller clearly hasn’t been forgotten.
Some solid shifts from Jakub Lauko, who tried to inject some energy during the more sleepy periods of the match. Yet he found himself in a tough situation after being whistled for a hit in the second period…and then being assessed an interference penalty just six seconds after leaving the penalty box.
The Bruins will continue their preseason schedule Friday night when Boston hosts the Flyers at TD Garden. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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