In their recent busy schedule, the Montreal Canadiens have played their fair share of playoff contenders. They’ve seen (and lost to) the Penguins (twice), Capitals, and Wild, and have beaten the Maple Leafs and Rangers.
This weekend’s back-to-back breaks that pattern. 24 hours after taking down the moribund Devils, the Habs welcome the last place Buffalo Sabres to the Bell Centre this evening.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: SN (English), TVAS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-B
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.72||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||47.38|
|1.28||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.89|
*Statistics do not include last night’s games.
These aren’t the historically abysmal Sabres of a couple of years ago, but maybe that’s a good thing. That 2014-15 Buffalo team had a pesky habit of beating the Canadiens, earning seven of the 54 points (12.9%) they amassed that season against Montreal.
This year’s Sabres, on the other hand, have yet to beat the Habs, losing the two teams’ season-opening matchup. That low-event game was more or less controlled by Montreal, as the Canadiens put four even-strength goals past Robin Lehner while their opponents struggled to crack Al Montoya.
That type of performance is par for the course for Buffalo, more or less, as the Sabres attempt and convert shots at rates among the lowest in the NHL. To make matters even more difficult, they’ll be taking on Montreal’s other goaltender on his home ice this evening.
As one might expect, Carey Price’s career numbers against Buffalo are sparkling, with a goals against average under two and a .932 save percentage.
With the Habs suppressing shots rather well (see last night as Exhibit A), Price shouldn’t likely expect a heavy workload this evening. But as Andrew Berkshire laid out recently, the problem for Montreal has been quality, not quantity. If the Habs can’t limit Buffalo’s premium chances, whether at even strength or on their productive powerplay, the outcome of this game could be out of Price’s hands.
At the other end of the rink, the Habs should be able to give Price some run support. With Anders Nilsson having started last night’s game, the Tricolore are likely to see Robin Lehner this evening. Lehner is the incumbent starter in Buffalo and has played well, but Nilsson has the slightly better numbers this season. Of course, both goalies know that playing behind the Sabres defence doesn’t always make life easy.
Josh Gorges has been nursing a hip ailment of late, and assuming he’ll be missing again this evening, we may see a top-four of Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, and Zach Bogosian with Cody Franson. Both of those pairings have played the equivalent of about six games together, and the results for each are atrocious. Regardless of how they deploy their defence, it looks like the Sabres will be heavily, disproportionately reliant on top centre Ryan O’Reilly to push the play into the Habs’ zone.
With young talent like Jack Eichel and a good stockpile of draft picks, there’s reason to believe the Sabres organization is on the rise. There’s also a reason, however, why the Sabres playoff chances are down to 4% in January.
The Canadiens smothered an inferior opponent last night, and when they got their opportunity, put them away. They would do well to replicate that effort this evening.