Northeast divisional rivals Bruins and Senators square off in Ottawa this evening after both teams notched a victory last night.  

Boston Bruins (19-9-1)

When coaches declare they have two number one goaltenders, it’s usually only lip service being paid to the backup in order to elevate his confidence and motivate his performance.  Such is the case with the Boston Bruins as well but coach Claude Julien may be very close to actually believing those words he uttered after last night’s 3-0 blanking of the LA Kings where Tuukka Rask turned aside 41 shots in a stellar performance.  Perhaps what made Rask’s shutout even more impressive was notching it without the services of rangy All-Star defenseman Zdeno Chara and gritty center Gregory Campbell.

Tyler SeguinBoston once again has staked their claim to the best defense in hockey backboned by All World goaltender Tim Thomas.  Though backup Tuukka Rask was magnificent in net last night it will be Thomas getting the nod between the pipes for Boston tonight.  Thomas’s last outing was an uncharacteristically subpar performance Saturday night in Columbus when he was pulled after two periods.  It proved to be a prescient decision by Julien as Rask blanked the Blue Jackets in the final frame and Boston snapped their 2 game losing streak with a 5-3 victory. 

Boston currently has the best +/- differential in the entire league with a +38 which is due not only to their stout defense but also to an impressive offense.  Boston is not surprisingly back on top as the number one rated defense but suddenly boasts the 2nd ranked overall offense to boot.  The emergence of the second pick in last year’s draft Tyler Seguin as Boston’s leading point getter has been a boon to the Bruins offense as has a healthy Patrice Bergeron.  Solid offensive contributions by late last season acquisitions Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley have also been a pleasant surprise.  Add in talented terror Milan Lucic and silky smooth wing man Nathan Horton and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are looming as solid favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup contenders

Ottawa Senators (14-13-4)

After dropping 5 of their last 6 games, Ottawa got a gutsy win in overtime over the Buffalo Sabres last night.  Trailing 2-1 in the 3rd period, Peter Regin tallied to knot the game at 2 and rookie defenseman Jared Cowen wandered deep into the Sabres zone to tap in the game winner just 45 seconds into overtime.  However, the victory was not without its consequences as the NHL’s leading goal scorer Milan Michalek collided with talented teammate Erik Karlsson and sustained an upper body injury that looked suspiciously like a concussion.  His status for tonight’s game is unknown at the time of this writing but his absence would be a huge blow for a team that is already coming into this game as sizeable underdogs.

The Senators have found decent production up front, ranking 10th in the league in scoring but their defense has been suspect to say the least.  They are allowing 3.4 goals per game which places them 30th in the league but perhaps the bane to their existence this season has been their proclivity to get behind teams early.  They have been outscored 33-20 in the 1st period this season and as a result find themselves in the unenviable position of trailing late in games.  

Analysis

While it’s difficult to lay -175 in NHL odds on the road, particularly against a team like the Senators who actually sport a winning record, it’s even more difficult to overlook the recent history between these two franchises.  In their only meeting this season, Ottawa had a 6 game win streak snapped in Boston back on November 1st in a 5-3 loss where they were outshot 41-26. 

Over the past three seasons, Boston is 6-0 in games played in Ottawa and goalie Craig Anderson is 1-5 with a 4.08 GAA against the Bruins.  Factor in Milan Michalek being less than 100 percent or not suited up at all and you’ll be lucky to get the visitors at less than -200 by game time.  Lay the lumber and play Boston.