After almost a full week off, the first place Canadiens faced the lowly Buffalo Sabres last night. That's a recipe for an easy win. Right? Right? Bueller?
Even though Montreal held the edge in the possession department, Buffalo had the best scoring chances after two periods, and despite a late push by the Canadiens, the Sabres capitalized on their opportunities to deny any points for the Habs.
Right off the bat, it was apparent that the week off hadn't done much good in terms of preparation, with the Canadiens continuously icing the puck, due to their inability to carry the puck out of their own zone.
Tyler Ennis got the scoring going with a highlight play. Unfortunately for Alexei Emelin, the goal was very much due to a comedy of errors on his part. He allowed Ennis way too much space as the Buffalo forward entered the zone, and was beaten cleanly on the pivot, giving Ennis a green light to drive the net. Add a dose of impressive hand-eye coordination to the mix, and just like that the Sabres were up by early.
Despite outshooting the Sabres, a casual viewer would have a hard time identifying which team is first in the league, and which team is purposely icing a terrible roster in an obvious attempt to draft Connor McDavid.
The highlight of the period for Habs fans, and perhaps the game, was an evenly-matched tilt between Brandon Prust and Chris Stewart. I should clarify, it was evenly matched in the results, but not in size. Although that's never deterred Prust in the past.
Montreal's lack of crisp passing in the offensive zone led to few opportunities they were presented to set up some sustained offense, and the second period resulted in little to no quality scoring chances, even less so than in the first. Interestingly enough, after practicing a 1-3-1 powerplay setup all week, the Canadiens avoided putting it into action during their first two opportunities.
As per usual, when things go wrong, Michel Therrien turned to his go-to play, of inserting Dale Weise alongside David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Don't get me wrong, Weise has scored some clutch goals lately, but this is akin to using bubblegum to patch leaks on a sinking submarine. Even worse, due to a giveaway, Alex Galchenyuk saw one of his shifts go to Eric Tangradi. It only lasted one shift, but that's not the right message to send to one of the few players who had a good game.
The Canadiens evened the score early in the third thanks to a very rare road powerplay goal. P.A. Parenteau bounced on the puck during a wild goalmouth scramble. This goal came off a 1-3-1 setup, which should be an encouraging sign for all Habs fans. Another encouraging point is that Jiri Sekac is being deployed in the man-advantage situations, which should eventually bode well for both him and the team.
As the game went on, the new #6 continued to remind everyone of the old #6, but the obvious scapegoat for this loss is Alexei Emelin.
His attempt at a hit turned out to be a blatant head shot, which was the cherry on top of his hot garbage sundae.
The Sabres went to the powerplay late in the third, in what was a golden opportunity to beat a team that has more than double their points.
It came down to a matter of luck, but the Sabres capitalized on a weird bounce, in what was a very fitting end to a lackluster effort by the Canadiens.
They did pour on the pressure late in the third, and truth be told they carried the play for the last ten minutes, but it was definitely too little, too late. To his credit, Enroth did a great job shutting down the late push by the Canadiens.
If we're being realistic, the Canadiens have won their fair share of games due to luck, and they probably owed the hockey gods this one. This game very well could have ended up as a win for the Habs with a little more puck luck, but they ended up on the bad side of the bounces. That being said, they were playing one of the worst teams assembled in recent history, and even worse, had all week to game plan.
I'm not fooling myself into thinking the Canadiens are a legitimate first place team, but they shouldn't struggle against a team like Buffalo. It was only a matter of time before the Habs got burned, considering how often they've played with fire this season.
The silver lining is that Tom Gilbert finally escaped the contrived criticism sent his way. All it took was getting benched in favour of worse players.
There's no time to dwell on the loss, as the Habs are back in action tonight against the same Sabres.
(gifs via @myregularface)