When the Montreal Canadiens last travelled to the First Niagara Center, they did so with a the thought of clinching a playoff birth on their minds.
The Habs would accomplish that goal, laying an absolute beating on the Buffalo Sabres. They outscored them 5-1, and outshot them 42-15. P.K. Subban broke a Tyler Myers' leg with an absolute rocket, and then scored a goal on the same sequence. Having witnessed the game in person, I can attest to the fact that Buffalo was simply never in it.
While that playoff berth did not bear the fruit that many Habs fans thought it might, the Sabres have never rebounded from the downward spiral that game represents.
A lot of things have changed since that night in Western New York, but that Sabres struggles persist.Head Coach Ron Rolston was fired, replaced by veteran bench boss Ted Nolan. Longtime GM Darcy Regier is also gone, as Sabre legend Pat Lafontaine searches for an adequate replacement.
The on-ice product has been altered as well. Top forward Thomas Vanek was dealt to the Islanders in a deal that yielded scorer Matt Moulson and a couple of high picks. The Sabres started and aborted a youth movement, starting the season with prospects Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Nikita Zadorov, Johan Larsson, and Rasmus Ristolainen, before sending (or attempting to send) most of those players back to the minors.
The players who remain, try as they may, have produced a season that has been all kinds of bad to this point. In even strength, score close situations, the Sabres have achieved the ambitious standard of falling below 40% Fenwick, a nigh impossible feat. Their goal differential of -35 is ten goals worse than their next closest competitors. Of course, that standing nicely matches their last place record.
Matt Moulson must long for the days of playing beside a MVP candidate. Ryan Miller must feel like his crease is a deserted island. Christian Ehrhoff only has eight years to go.
Now, verbose explanation of the Sabres' misfortunes aside, anything can happen in any NHL game. Unfortunately for the Habs, the Sabres have taken that phrase seriously of late.
Despite their second place finish in the Eastern Conference, the Habs lost of their season series to Buffalo last year, three games to two. The Habs packed some disappointing efforts, baffling collapses, and totally luckless nights into their matchups against the Queen City's team. In summary, even against a team that has lost four in a row, Montreal should still have something to prove against the Sabres.
With Peter Budaj likely to participate in Montreal's back-to-back later this week, Carey Price should take to the ice this evening. Price has a mediocre record 10-9-7 against the Sabres in his career, but has played well, earning a .932 save percentage. His counterpart, the Sabres' Ryan Miller, is 25-10-6 against Montreal, earning a .923 save percentage and three shutouts. Habs fans have grown accustomed to wondering how CP31's exemplary play has buoyed him to a record of only .500 or so for most of the season so far. Miller takes that quandary one step further, as his .919 save percentage this year has translated to only four wins in eighteen tries.
For more coverage of the Sabres recent transition period, comically referred to as coverage of the "organizational explosion," head over to Die By The Blade.
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