Sunday's brutal loss to the New York Rangers was not the only blowout the Canadiens have suffered this season. There was the memorable thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the listless beat-down laid by the Chicago Blackhawks. In each case, however, the Habs bounced back. Last night, it was not so.
The Montreal Canadiens, from their perch at the top of the NHL's standings, had four full days to prepare for the league's most pitiful squad. When it finally came time to drop the puck, they turned in a perfectly mediocre performance.
The possession stats are favourable at face value, but slanted heavily by a desperate third period push. In fact, most of the improvements implemented by the Canadiens didn't pan out.
Bryan Allen took on healthy scratched Tom Gilbert's tough deployment, and while he wasn't given an easy job, he and Mike Weaver were overrun by a line of Brian Gionta, Torrey Mitchell, and Brian Flynn.
Their shiny new powerplay got the team's only goal, but struggled to generate many quality chances. Of course, that reality extended to even strength, too, where the Habs put 54 shots toward Jhonas Enroth but never truly threatened.
The Canadiens are apparently in the midst of an experimental phase, in which Michel Therrien tries new things and sees where they lead. Hopefully, the novelty of losing to Buffalo has now worn off.
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Tale of the Tape
|48.61||Fenwick % (Within 1)||36.85|
|1.10||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.62|
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The Sabres, meanwhile, used the same formula that has served them well for their last six games or so. Enroth stifled the Canadiens meagre efforts, keeping Montreal at bay long enough for Tyler Ennis' individual effort and fortuitous bounce off the back boards to hold up for the victory.
Tonight, Buffalo will look to Michal Neuvirth to reprise Enroth's role. The former Capital has outstanding performances in four of his last five games, doing his part to make the Sabres marginally competitive. His string of strong play was interrupted only by an encounter with the St. Louis Blues, in which Buffalo's penalty kill got lit up for three goals while shorthanded.
Otherwise, it's just a matter of timely offence. Zemgus Girgensons has been productive, and is a definite up-and-comer on a poor team. Players like Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson may not be enough to buoy the Sabres to greater heights, but they're capable of skilful plays like the one that opened the scoring last night.
Last Time Out
When it comes down to it, the Habs need to be better.
This home and home is the bridge between two murderous stretches, and by sacrificing two points, the Canadiens have already failed to take advantage.
Their healthy team has the type of talent advantage that should never give Sabre opportunism a chance to be a factor, but Montreal couldn't do it for Carey Price. Tonight, we'll see if fortune smiles on Dustin Tokarski.