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Canadiens vs Sabres Game Recap: Beating Buffalo at their own game

Paul Byron helps the Habs best the Sabres in a chippy affair.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

This season hasn't gone as the Montreal Canadiens had hoped. In fact, it has probably gone exactly how the team didn't want it to go. A combination of questionable coaching, mounting injuries, and bad luck have cratered a once promising year. And armed with the knowledge that no changes will be made in the foreseeable future, watching the Montreal Canadiens play out their remaining games has been an exercise in futility. But this match was different.

20160316 5v5SA Corsi
Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

The game got off to a slow start, with both teams exchanging offsides instead of putting shots on net. With the exception of a great glove save by Ben Scrivens to deny Brian Gionta, neither the Canadiens nor the Sabres made much of an effort to score the opening goal through the game's first ten minutes.

While both teams looked sluggish early on, the Sabres quickly shook off their weariness halfway through the period to take advantage of a lethargic Canadiens squad. Buffalo's unrelenting pressure would eventually force Victor Bartley to take an ill-timed hooking penalty, and the Sabres scored on the ensuing man advantage to take the lead. Though the call on the ice was reviewed for what looked to have been a high stick, Zach Bogosian's controversial goal would stand.

The rest of the period wasn't much kinder to the Canadiens, but Ben Scrivens made a couple of ridiculous saves to limit the Sabres to just one goal. Frustrations did, however, start to boil over near the end of the period. First, Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges were sent off (the former for elbowing and the latter for cross-checking), following a skirmish that broke out after Alex Galchenyuk was pushed into Robin Lehner by Rasmus Ristolainen.

No goals were scored on the resulting four-on-four, but the bad blood didn't end there.

Tomas Plekanec and Evander Kane exchanged pleasantries, and earned coincidental unsportsmanlike penalties for their troubles. This sent both teams back to playing with one less player for both end the first and start the second. Overall, it was a terrible first period for the Habs, who were outshot to a tune of fifteen to five and had zero scoring chances compared to the eight that the Sabres had over the same span.

The second period started on higher note for the Canadiens, with Greg Pateryn capitalizing on Alex Galchenyuk's rush to blast a slapshot past Lehner. Pateryn's first goal of the season — and first career goal — tied the game at one. Galchenyuk also nabbed the puck for his defenceman.

Almost immediately following the goal, Pateryn was sent off for tripping, giving the Buffalo Sabres another power play opportunity. Unlike the first time, the Canadiens had little trouble killing this one off.

Injuries continued to pile up for the Habs, who lost defenceman Mark Barberio (who did not return after suffering an unidentified injury) for the night.  If neither he nor P.K. Subban are able to go for the next game, you can expect another emergency recall from the farm team.

The rest of the period was a chippy affair, with both teams combining to accumulate forty-six minutes worth of penalties, including three 10-minute misconducts. As if to accentuate how much of a gongshow the remainder of the period was, at one point Ben Scrivens was openly challenging Robin Lehner to a goalie fight, though the referees intervened to prevent it from happening (which depending on your stance, was either disappointing or a giant relief).

Nonetheless, the Sabres' goaltender impatience would be his undoing, as the Canadiens took advantage of Lehner's roughing penalty to take their first lead of the game. Andrei Markov redirected Tomas Plekanec's pass right through Lehner's five hole in the dying seconds of the period, and The General's fifth goal of the season put the Habs ahead by a score of 2-1. Despite the edge on the scoreboard, the Canadiens were once again out-chanced throughout the period.

Perhaps realizing that the game was slipping away, the Buffalo Sabres began the third by applying pressure on the Habs. Despite giving the Canadiens an early power play (courtesy of an interference call that went against Marcus Foligno), the Sabres had little difficulty killing it off and continued to spend most of their time in Montreal's end.

Buffalo's lack of discipline nearly cost them, when Evander Kane was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking Paul Byron in the head and getting an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing at Byron after the fact.

In typical Canadiens fashion, the power play did more harm than good for team, as Montreal allowed a short-handed goal during the man advantage. Foligno scored his tenth of the season by taking advantage of a mistimed line change, and beat Scrivens cleanly to even up the score.

From that moment on, momentum seemed to be on Buffalo's side, but Scrivens was a brick wall during the rest of the period. Even though a penalty was called against Markov for delivering a cross check with almost exactly two minutes to go, and the Sabres threatened to use the chance to score the winning goal, Scrivens made a few unbelievable saves to preserve the tie.

Because of Markov's penalty, the first half of overtime was played as four-on-four hockey, instead of the usual three-on-three. The veteran defender got some time once his sentence was served, but the Habs were without the services of Markov as overtime wound down after he earned the night's fourth misconduct penalty. Not pleased with a non-call on an interference play that  may have ended the game, Markov complained a bit too loudly for the referee's liking, and he was sent off early.

The game seemed destined to end in a loss for the Habs, but Paul Byron's shot was karmically redirected by Bogosian into his own net, to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win.

Thoughts

  • Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Sven Andrighetto were the only players on the Canadiens who weren't caved in possession wise. Montreal controlled just over 65% of even-strength shot attempts while the trio was on the ice. More impressively, Galchenyuk ended the game with the highest positive Corsi differential on the team, despite being the second-most-used forward on the team, and he picked up an assist to boot.

  • The Sabres were an undisciplined bunch, racking up 52 penalty minutes, including two 10-minute misconducts, throughout the game. Unfortunately, the Canadiens fared no better, having accumulated 48 penalty minutes, two misconducts of their own.

    Yet despite being given multiple opportunities on the man advantage, the Canadiens managed to score only one goal on the power play and gave up a short-handed goal while Kane was serving a double minor. The Canadiens went 1-for-6 on the power play during this game, and have now scored 39 power play goals on 228 opportunities; scoring on 17.1% of their chances.

    In comparison, the basement-bound Sabres have a power play that scores on 18.9% of their opportunities. In fact, over Michel Therrien's four-year tenure as head coach, the Canadiens power play has chugged along at 20.7%, 16.5%, 16.0% and 17.1%, and yet not one coach responsible for this has been replaced.

    While I can understand Marc Bergevin's reluctance to fire Therrien, given the continued ineffectiveness of the power play, it does not make sense for the GM to not hire a fresh face to fix this particular aspect of the team.

  • A combination of injuries and penalties meant that the patented blender was on full display during the game. Predictably, this led to Mike Brown spending time on Montreal's top line. Yes, he was indeed skating alongside Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. It was an odd decision, especially considering that Sven Andrighetto had put up four assists in four games playing on the right wing of the top trio.

  • Not having P.K. Subban in the lineup is wreaking havoc on Montreal's back end. The Canadiens defensive deficiencies are all the more glaring. The team's inability to transition out of their own zone is worrying, and, most importantly, 37-year-old Markov is being worked to the bone. None of this bodes well for Montreal moving forward. However, the Habs did say that Subban will only miss two games, so here's to hoping he'll suit up with the team on the weekend.

  • What an amazing performance by Ben Scrivens, who stopped 41 of 43 shots to give the Canadiens a chance to win this game. Scrivens' goaltending style can be politely called cardiac-arrest-inducing, but it was certainly effective during this game. As an aside, how does the goalie who posted a .953 SV% not even get named the third star of the game?

  • There is something about losing to Buffalo that stings a bit more. Perhaps it's because they continue to rack up wins against the Canadiens, despite being a mediocre hockey club. Maybe it's because they willingly employ players like Robin Lehner and Evander Kane. Heck, it might even be because they are currently being coached by Dan Bylsma (and we are all to familiar with what happened the last time Bylsma replaced a head coach). And all of this made the Canadiens winning this game much more satisfying than perhaps it should have been.