After winning the first three games of the regular season series, the Montreal Canadiens have dropped their last two to the Buffalo Sabres. The good news is that both contests went beyond regulation, allowing the Canadiens to salvage at least a single point on all five contests.
The team's last meeting was a 2-1 shootout decision that went 10 rounds, almost enough time to read "War and Peace."
The two teams will wrap up their regular season series tonight at the Bell Centre (7pm EST; RDS, TSN, CJAD).
The Sabres are maintaining an eight-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff will certainly have his troops motivated to grab two more points at the Bell Centre. They Sabres let a point slip away when they lost a lead to the Nashville Predators, and fell 4-3 in overtime. During the game, Blake Geoffrion, grandson and great grandson of late Habs legends Bernie Geoffrion and Howie Morenz respectively, scored his first career NHL hat trick.
"They realized to put all that work in and to give it away to make the mistakes we made was unacceptable," said Ruff following Monday's practice. "They know that. Mistakes are part of the game. We take a lot of pride in being a smarter team. We made a couple mistakes we don't want to make again."
Overall it should be a tight defensive battle, as all but one game have been decided by a single goal.
"We're going to put two guys on Subban, and make sure he doesn't get loose again," Ruff joked, before giving a more serious analysis of the Habs rookie and his team. "He's a good young player. He's right up there on the offensive side with Tyler Ennis, with the way he moves.
"They've got a lot of confidence, and have been able to win after tough losses. We anticipate this to be a real tough game."
Despite rookie Jhonas Enroth's 32-save performance in the last meeting against the Canadiens, Ruff is likely to ride All-Star goalie Ryan Miller (18-8-5, 2.4 GAA career vs Montreal) for their next three games.
Ennis has been the sharp blade for the Sabres offense of late, with 12 points (7 goals) and a +3 rating in his last 14 games.
On the injury front, Sabres' defenseman Steve Montador is day-to-day with a lower body injury. He was unable to finsh practice Monday, so he is doubtful to start tonight. Jochen Hecht, the hero of the marathon shootout, is also unlikely yo see action until the weekend, with an upper body injury.
With three games in the next five days, the Canadiens coach gave his team Monday off to rest and prepare for the busy week ahead.
Barring any returns from injury by Jeff Halpern or Tomas Plekanec, expect Jacques Martin to field relatively the same lineup that we saw Sunday against Minnesota. Two lone exceptions will be Andreas Engqvist, who was called up Monday, replacing Aaron Palushaj, and Carey Price returning between the pipes. Price has started every game this season against Buffalo, and is 8-4-5 (2.01, .936) in his career.
After going on a nine-game pointless streak, Andrei Kostitsyn has racked up 12 points (6 goals) in his last 13 games. The Belarusian winger is now third on the Canadiens in scoring. With Plekanec's return uncertain, Kostitsyn's scoring touch may be resurfacing at the most opportune time.
Ryan White, who bagged the Canadiens' first Gordie Howe Hat Trick in Minnesota, will be hoping the scoring touch returns with him to Montreal. White's first career NHL goal came at the best possible time for the Manitoba native. ""I was glad I scored my first goal here with all the fans from Manitoba. It felt like home," White said Sunday. "I told the guys the other night that this is the closest I’ll get to play at home unless they get a team in Winnipeg."
Martin's service announced: The Sabres have announced the service for former great Rick Martin, who died of a heart attack a week ago this past Sunday. Full details can be found at The Sabres Edge.
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