What We Learned in the B's 3-2 OT win over the Sabres

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Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night.

1. Maybe it’s time for Danton Heinen to regain some confidence at the AHL level in Providence. Heinen has been moved up and down the lineup, moved to both wings and given power play time and reps with the B’s top line in an effort to kick up his offensive confidence. Nothing has consistently worked to this point, and Heinen had something of a bottoming out on Saturday. He started on the left side in place of Brad Marchand with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but was quickly benched in favor of Sean Kuraly. Heinen finished with just 8:05 of ice time in his second-lowest ice time of the season, and he spent long stretches of the first two periods on the bench. Heinen had a chance to tie up the game late in the third period when Casey Middlestadt put the puck right on his stick in the slot for a golden scoring chance, but he couldn’t even get a shot off on the net. It’s clear by his four goals and 10 points in 37 games that he’s way off last season’s offensive totals, and his confidence in the offensive zone really appears to be gone at this point. Nothing that’s being done at the NHL level is bringing it back whether it’s tough love healthy scratches, getting benched or giving Heinen prime offensive time with Boston’s best players. Maybe it’s time to rebuild the engine in Providence for a bit and see if Anders Bjork has elevated his game after some time in the AHL as well? Because right now things just aren’t working right now with Heinen.

BRUINS 3, SABRES 2 (OT)

2. Sean Kuraly is at the very least demanding more playing time in the 3-on-3 overtime. Kuraly was the player that most directly benefited from Heinen’s struggles on Saturday night as he was elevated to the left wing with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and played a pretty strong game as a hard fore-checking winger. But Kuraly really impacted the game in overtime when he won a defensive zone face-off and then stayed on the ice to gather the puck in the neutral zone and enter the Buffalo zone with high speed. Kuraly fired a shot that Carter Hutton kicked right back out and then flipped the rebound into the open net for the game-winning score, his third goal of the season. Perhaps the extra time and space that Kuraly can get in overtime can help open up a little bit more offense for him than when he’s doing his fourth line duty during most of regulation play? Either way his penchant for big goals at big points for the Bruins just screams out for more ice time in the OT.

3. One can’t underestimate the hugeness of Saturday night’s come-from-behind win. It’s one the Bruins desperately needed, and not just because it allows the B’s to go into the Winter Classic on a winning note. They needed the two points in order to stay within a couple of points of the Sabres above them for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, and to also stay ahead of both the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders for wild card playoff position. It’s beginning to look like one of the Habs, the Isles or the Bruins could finish out of the playoffs when it’s all said and done a few months from now, and that Boston is going to be in a nightly fight to stay above those other teams. So the “four-point divisional games” will take on greater significance from now until the end of the regular season even as the B’s will be playing less of them for a while. A regulation loss to the Sabres on Saturday night would have started to make things a little more difficult for the Bruins as points become more difficult to come by in the second half of the season. They did themselves a big favor by tying things up in the third period and then getting the full two points with Sean Kuraly’s goal in overtime.

Plus

Jake DeBrusk was on the ice for a pair of goals against, but he stepped up at a huge moment and redirected a Torey Krug point shot past Carter Hutton for the game-tying power play goal. The B’s needed that score with 2:29 to play in the third and DeBrusk paid the price to get it for them.

All Sean Kuraly does is score big goals for the Bruins. It was him that stepped up in OT, won a defensive zone face-off and then motored down the other end of the ice to follow up his shot for the game-winning goal.

Noel Acciari had arguably his best game of the season while scoring his first goal of the year, ringing up five shots on net and three hits while playing his energy role to perfection with the Black and Gold.

Minus

Jack Eichel was effectively bottled up by the Bruins with Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara back in the lineup after he dominated the B’s a couple of weeks when Boston’s top defenders were injured and out of the lineup. He had no points, one shot on net and was a minus-1 with very little influence on the game.

The Bruins' power play stepped up and provided the game-tying goal late in the third period on Jake DeBrusk’s redirection in front of the net, but they also allowed the NHL-worst eighth shorthanded goal of the season earlier in the game. The Bruins are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most shorthanded goals allowed in the NHL.

Danton Heinen had no shots on net, played just 8:05 of ice time and was benched for long portions of the game as the Bruins continue to try and find a way to unlock his offensive game. The sheer lost confidence from last season to this season is stunning. 

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