Michel Therrien is many things.
He's a man who seems to trust his eyes and his convictions, allowing them to guide him to the mixed results he's achieved in his career. In some corners, the man seems to command an unquestioned sort of paternal respect, while other opinions of the Montreal native are likely unpublishable in this space.
Objectively, he's an experienced coach, and has enjoyed success at the CHL and NHL levels. He's achieved impressive longevity for a NHL bench boss, maintaining positions behind the Montreal and Pittsburgh benches for nine of the last fifteen years. Now, he's on the cusp of taking the Habs to their second consecutive playoff berth.
Last night, he showed that he's a risk taker, too. Observing the many failures of the Buffalo Sabres, the Canadiens opponents this evening, Therrien hedged his bets toward Tuesday night, and started Peter Budaj in net. The Bruins, as no one need be reminded, are one of the league's best teams, and the type of matchup that generally requires any team to ice their strongest lineup if they wish to compete. Therrien, however, thinking outside the box, went a different route. By holding back Carey Price, Therrien gambled that a strong game from his back-up could beat the Bruins, and that playing his starter against Buffalo would assure a victory.
Budaj held up his end of the bargain, playing an unbelievable game to will the Habs to victory. Budaj stopped 28 of 29 shots, setting the bar high with saves like this one:
Tale of the Tape
Despite managing only two goals, the Canadiens throttled the Sabres last week, and things haven't improved much in Western New York since then. The Sabres have fallen to a comical 35.6% Fenwick close over their last ten, and having decimated their roster with trades, are icing more than their fair share of youngsters.
Among those younger players is Matt Hackett, a longtime AHLer who will play against Montreal for the first time in his career this evening. Hackett has proven himself to be a strong AHL goalie in the past, but has struggled with Rochester this season. In his first full season with the Sabres' AHL affiliate, Hackett has posted a .898 save percentage, good enough for the 40th best mark among AHL keepers. With his organization rebuilding, however, doors are open that would not normally be. With the recently acquired Michal Neuvirth still injured, Hackett will get some valuable NHL experience tonight while showcasing himself for next season.
Ultimately, the outcome of tonight's game will come down to more than Matt Hackett. The Buffalo Sabres were put out of their misery a long time ago, and while new administration is again bringing optimism to the Queen's City, the fruits of Tim Murray's labours are far from ripe. The Montreal Canadiens are unequivocally better, but as we've seen in previous Habs-Sabres clashes (and last night, for that matter), the better team isn't always the team that emerges with two points.
Last night, Michel Therrien gambled that his back-up goalie would stand out, and that a strong performance would allow his team to win in Boston. Tonight, we'll find out if Price is the guarantee Therrien thinks he is.