The Habs traveled to western New York in great need of a morale boosting victory following two consecutive disappointing losses at home. Playing against the basement dwelling Buffalo Sabres, one would have to consider this an opportune time to get such a win, and do so easily. But alas, these Montreal Canadiens are not finding anything easily of late.
The first two periods did little to lend any hope that the recent struggles would be coming to an abrupt end. They struggled mightily to generate offense, and even when they did have the puck in the Buffalo zone, they had a rather tough time getting it on net.
Towards the end of the first, Michael Bournival took a hard check from Cody McCormick in the corner, and came up clutching his left shoulder. Bournival left the game and did not return, which will be a big loss for the Canadiens' depth if he's to be out for an extended period of time.
The fact that Montreal is a better team was visible, but they had serious problems generating quality scoring chances. In the defensive zone, they also seemed very scrambled, and had some pretty awful looking breakouts. It was particularly frustrating to see defensemen blindly fire Dustin Tokarski's rebounds down the ice while having time to control it and look for an outlet instead. Luckily, Buffalo is a struggling team as well, and could not capitalize on any of the Canadiens errors.
Though through two periods with no score; the Canadiens were being outshot, and arguably outplayed by the Buffalo Sabres. The fact that this was the second game in as many nights is of cold comfort, as a performance like this against the Sabres can't simply be chalked up to fatigue. Barring some offense in the third, it was looking like the Habs could be headed for a third straight regulation loss.
That offense would come very quickly in the third, as P.A. Parenteau cashed in a rebound off a P.K. Subban shot to put the Canadiens up one. That lead lasted less than five minutes, as Jiri Sekac took a boarding penalty, and Drew Stafford made good on the powerplay to tie it up at one apiece. As the third period rolled on from there, it felt like a matter of time before it became a three point game.
In overtime, there were a number of chances at both ends, the best of which came off the stick of Max Pacioretty. He was absolutely robbed by Neuvirth on a one timer that likely finds it's way to the back of the net more often than not. The Sabres had an alarming edge in play for the first few minutes of the extra frame, the Canadiens took it back after that, but could not solve Neuvirth who was solid all night for the Sabres.
In the shootout, Brian Gionta scored against his former team before Alex Galchenyuk replied with a beautiful deke of his own. P.A. Parenteau continued his run of clutch shootout performances, winning it for the Canadiens again with the far side shot from the slot. Not the best performance the team is capable of, but it was a win, and a much needed one at that.
While it can be difficult to complain about a win, this is one of those occasions where one can find more bad than good in spite of the result. Yes, they won the game, but to struggle offensively against a perpetually struggling overall team like the Sabres is a red flag that simply can't be ignored.
That said, the even strength numbers were not exactly terrible. Only five Habs skaters failed to hit the 50% mark for even strength corsi, while P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty clocked in at 70% and 71% respectively. Subban in particular had a great game, setting up the only goal, and had a few shifts where he was all over the ice making plays. On one occasion he generated a scoring chance, then got all the way back into the defensive zone to backcheck, and turned it up ice for another chance. P.K. Subban is very good at hockey.
Jiri Sekac was finally re-inserted into the lineup on Wednesday, and he showed that he deserved it on his very first shift. Once the puck hit his stick, he gained the Sabres zone easily, fought off a check down low, and generated a scoring chance for himself. His boarding penalty that led to the Sabres only goal was a well deserved one, as he got his man square in the numbers, but it wasn't brutal and shouldn't be looked at as a suspension worthy hit. Hopefully the coaching staff doesn't see fit to sit him again after what can be chalked up as a simple mistake, easy to make at high speed.
Hopefully the win can double as a confidence builder and a wake up call. They absolutely should have been able to put this one away in regulation, but settling for some Parenteau shootout heroics still earns two points no matter how you slice it.