Last week, the Canadiens played three high-stakes games. They eliminated the Stars and Panthers before doing some major damage to the Lightning’s aspirations, and in doing so, they earned themselves an Atlantic division title.
They also earned themselves the privilege of a week’s worth of mostly meaningless games, the second of which comes this evening against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres entered the week sitting third-last in the Eastern Conference, ahead of just the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils, and suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
With nothing left for the Habs and Sabres to accomplish this season (save for avoiding injury and improving draft lottery odds, respectively), it’s anyone’s guess as to what sort of complexion tonight’s game will take.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EDT / 4:30 PM PDT
In Canada: SN (English)
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-B
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecentre Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.83||Score-adjusted Corsi %||47.28|
|1.24||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.81|
There’s one major lineup question mark for the Sabres, and that’s Kyle Okposo’s status. The forward has been ill of late and Monday’s game saw Alex Nylander spend some time Okposo’s place on the first line, alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane. That game also marked Nylander’s NHL debut, and with nothing to lose, it would make sense for Dan Bylsma to play his prospect again regardless of whether Okposo is also available.
The game will feature two former Montreal fan favourites, in the form of Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta. With the latter, the former Canadiens captain, now 38-years-old and playing in the final year of his contract, this could well be the last we see of one of the most recognizable faces of this decade’s Habs.
Playing behind Gorges and Gionta is likely to be Robin Lehner, whose above average numbers in the face of an impressive number of shot attempts against this season still haven’t been enough to buoy his team. Lehner has already seen the Habs three times since October, giving up four and five goals in losses sandwiched around a 3-2 Buffalo OT win in mid-January.
On the Montreal side, look for the Tricolore to continue experimenting with the playoffs a week away. With no word on Shea Weber and Jordie Benn’s injuries, it’s likely fair to expect that players like Brandon Davidson and Nikita Nesterov will get another chance to show that they’re ready for playoff spot duty should they be called upon.
With the fourth line changing on a game-to-game basis, it’s also likely that Claude Julien will again use tonight’s contest to test drive the combinations he may employ in the postseason. Just as the fact that Montreal has consistently outplayed their opponents of late should give the coaching staff confidence in their ability to handle the Rangers in the first round, it should also give them the confidence to know that they can continue to tinker without hurting the team’s overall competitiveness.
If the Canadiens can find some momentum with a combination they like, especially at the bottom of their forward group, perhaps hindsight will make this game more than meaningless after all.