Bruins takeaways: Mason Lohrei logs heavy minutes, too many passengers in preseason loss to Sabres


Mason Lohrei logged nearly 30 minutes of ice time in the Bruins’ preseason loss to the Sabres.

Buffalo Sabres' Zach Benson tries to get the puck from Boston Bruins' Matt Grzelcyk during the first period of an NHL hockey preseason game Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Grzelcyk had an injury scare in Boston’s loss to the Sabres on Tuesday. Joshua Bessex / The Buffalo News via AP

The Bruins came up short in their second preseason game, falling to the Sabres, 4-1, on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center.

Oskar Steen scored the lone goal for the Bruins at 17:57 in the third period, while starting netminder Kyle Keyser stopped 20 of the 22 shots that came his way in the loss. Michael DiPietro replaced Keyser in the net during the second period, finishing with 11 saves on 12 shots.

Here are a few takeaways from Boston’s preseason bout in Buffalo.

Plenty of passengers 

Boston’s preseason opener against the Rangers was an encouraging showing on multiple fronts, with several prospects in Brandon Bussi, Matthew Poitras, and Johnny Beecher all making strong first impressions out on the ice. 

Tuesday’s follow-up performance in Buffalo was far more subdued. Beyond a select few standouts, Boston’s lineup — especially its younger crop of players — struggled to make a sizable impact in what was a sleepy loss to the Sabres.

Postgame, Jim Montgomery noted on the NESN broadcast that he was impressed with Jesper Boqvist’s skating and two-way game, while Beecher posted another solid performance (15:21 TOI, one drawn penalty, two blocks) as he tries to state his case for the team’s fourth-line center spot.

But it was a quiet evening for large segments of Boston’s forward corps, with Oskar Steen’s late goal serving as the lone spark for an offense that was largely disjointed, especially in the opening 40 minutes of play.

Despite Steen’s strong effort with his netfront tally, a line of him, Danton Heinen, and Georgii Merkulov struggled to make a sizable impact at 5v5 play. In their 4:03 ice time together, the Sabres held the edge in goals scored, 1-0, and shot attempts, 6-1.

It was far from an ideal start for a pair of PTO candidates in Heinen and Alex Chiasson (15:20 TOI, minus-1 rating), while Merkulov had some extended O-zone lulls against Buffalo.

For all of the talk from Montgomery about wanting Boston to play with both pace and a renewed emphasis on physicality, the Bruins logged just nine total hits against Buffalo.

Just two games into preseason action, the Bruins aren’t necessarily rolling out the most stacked lineup at this stage of the summer.

But Montgomery and his staff are looking for AHL regulars, PTO players and some roster-bubble candidates to make their decisions harder when it comes to cutdown 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 as far as Boston’s D-zone coverage was concerned. But the Bruins did receive a boost on the blue line in the play of both Mason Lohrei and Ian Mitchell.

The Bruins clearly had no qualms with handing Lohrei extended 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 in ice time at 19:38.

Lohrei finished with an even rating, two shots on goal and the primary helper on Steen’s goal after firing a puck in through traffic from the point.

As expected, there were some bumps along the way for Lohrei, who will need to continue to iron out his D-zone play and decision-making to handle the pace up in the NHL.

Still, Boston seems committed to throwing Lohrei right into a heavy workload during preseason action. Expect that to continue moving forward, even if he likely needs some seasoning in Providence to open the year.

Mitchell, who landed in Boston via the swap with Chicago that involved Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno, was active throughout the game. He made a few poised outlet passes to try and spark Boston’s offense, and also routinely jumped up into the play when needed. He finished with a team-high nine shot attempts on Tuesday.

Grzelcyk has injury scare

Just a few days after Boston lost both Patrick Brown and Jakub Zboril to injury in their preseason opener, the Bruins momentarily lost another starting blueliner on Tuesday in Matt Grzelcyk.

Grzelcyk, one of the few NHL regulars on Tuesday’s roster, exited the game in the second period after taking a puck below the belt. The 29-year-old defenseman made his way down the tunnel and did not return for the rest of the middle frame.

But Boston did get some good news, as Grzelcyk returned in the third period and ultimately logged 15:45 of ice time on Tuesday. Grzelcyk earned high grades from Montgomery on the NESN broadcast, with the Charlestown native as advertised with his transition game and puck-moving capabilities.

Montgomery also stated on Tuesday morning that both Brown and Zboril are not expected to miss time. Brown practiced on Tuesday, while Zboril is expected to return to the ice on Wednesday.

Devon Levi impresses for Buffalo

Tuesday might have been a sign of things to come for the Bruins when it comes to matchups against the Sabres this season.

Buffalo has been on the upswing over the last two seasons, due in large part to an influx of young, top-flight talent. But the Sabres’ Achilles heel for years now has been a dearth of capable goaltending since the days of Ryan Miller.

At long last, the Sabres have hope in 21-year-old netminder (and Northeastern product) Devon Levi. Levi was impressed in his two periods of play against Boston on Tuesday, stopping all 19 shots while rarely putting himself out of position in net.

Expectations are high for Levi, who posted a stellar .943 save percentage over two seasons (66 games) with the Huskies. But if he can establish himself as a proven No. 1 netminder, an already promising Sabres squad can take another step forward in the Atlantic Division.

That should frighten the rest of the division, especially clubs like the Bruins and Lightning who are trying to steel themselves against up-and-coming rosters.

Loose pucks

It was a rough night for defenseman Ryan Mast, who was in the sin bin for Buffalo’s first goal of the night, and then inadvertently deflected the Sabres’ second tally past Keyser 43 seconds into the second period.

Some pretty good pace from Milan Lucic in his first game with the Bruins since April 2015. The veteran power forward isn’t going to be winning many foot races, but was regularly engaged out on the ice. Judging from the reception in Buffalo whenever he touched a puck, Lucic steamrolling Ryan Miller clearly hasn’t been forgotten.

A few solid shifts from Jakub Lauko, who tried to inject some energy during the sleepier stretches of the game. Still, he fell into a rough spot after getting whistled for a slash in the second period … and then getting assessed an interference penalty just six seconds after exiting the penalty box.

The Bruins will continue their preseason slate on Friday night when Boston hosts the Flyers at TD Garden. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.