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Canadiens vs. Sabres Recap: Pacioretty’s hat trick buries Buffalo

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A dominating five-goal performance by Montreal nabbed them two points from the Buffalo Sabres.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of enjoying All-Star festivities, Carey Price and Shea Weber returned to the Bell Centre to lead the Montreal Canadiens past the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. But they weren’t the only ones to return, as Andrei Markov, David Desharnais, and Greg Pateryn also made their return to the lineup, while new acquisition Nikita Nesterov suited up as well.

The night started off on a sombre note, as members of both teams and fans observed a moment of silence for the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting.

Once play started, both teams almost immediately exchanged penalties early on, with Taylor Fedun sent off for tripping and Greg Pateryn booked for holding just as Fedun’s call expired. Despite the early power-play opportunities, neither team was able to get on the board on the man advantage.

The Canadiens outshot the Sabres in the first period, and would go on to break the deadlock with less than five minutes left in the frame. Max Pacioretty converted on Alex Radulov’s pass, the captain’s wrister beaingt Robin Lenher to open the scoring for Montreal.

The second period started on a similar note for the Canadiens, as Paul Byron nearly converted on a three-on-two after capitalizing on a turnover at centre ice. Undeterred, Montreal continued to pressure the scrambling Buffalo Sabres, and a little less than halfway through the period, the captain struck again. Assisted again by Alex Radulov and Phillip Danault, Pacioretty’s snap shot beat a sprawling Lehner to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead.

20170131 5v5SA Corsi Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

And the goals didn’t stop there. Just under five minutes later, David Desharnais got on the scoresheet as well. Playing in his first game back since his injury, Desharnais had no trouble ripping Sven Andrighetto’s pass top corner.

Despite missing early on, Byron redeemed himself in the final minutes of the second, finishing off a picture-perfect play set up by Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec. Byron’s marker gave the Canadiens a comfortable four-goal lead, which the team carried into the final period.

Much like the second period, the Canadiens dominated early on. Montreal’s persistence paid off, when Max Pacioretty was able to locate the puck among a swarm of Sabres skaters to continue tormenting Lehner. The captain’s 24th goal of the season completed his hat trick after another strong shift from the top trio.

Yet as the period wore on, Buffalo pushed back. An unlikely goal-scorer, Dmitry Kulikov, beat Price with a shot with just under five minutes left in the period to break Montreal’s shutout bid. The Canadiens followed up that temporary setback by taking two late penalties.

With 3:28 left on the clock and Alexei Emelin serving two minutes for cross-checking, Brian Gionta was able to notch Buffalo’s second goal of the night. Capitalizing on a rare fumble by Price, the former Canadiens captain made it a three-goal game. That was as close as the Sabres would come, and the Canadiens skated of with another victory, getting a 5-2 win in their first game after the break.

Thoughts

  • Max Pacioretty was on fire. Not only did the Canadiens control over 55% of even-strength shot attempts while he was on the ice, but his hat trick also leaves Pacioretty among the league’s leading goal-scorers. The captain now has five goals and three assists in his last 10 games, and seems poised to carry on his scoring ways in the second half of the season.
  • Alex Radulov continues to be Alex Radulov. The Russian winger assisted on two of Pacioretty’s goals and has put up 41 points in 50 games this season. With his consistent performance on the ice, Radulov is making his case for a well-deserved contract extension with the Canadiens.
  • Andrei Markov didn’t quite look like himself in his first game back. Despite setting up Paul Byron’s goal in the second period, Markov seemed uncharacteristically out of position all game long. The Canadiens managed to control just over 39% of even-strength shot attempts while the defenseman was on the ice; the lowest on the team. It will take some time for him to get up to speed after a groin injury, which would adversely affect even a young defender.

The Habs are back on the road for their next contest, flying into Philadelphia for Thursday night’s game versus All-Star MVP Wayne Simmonds and the Flyers.