Montreal Canadiens @ Buffalo Sabres
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2, TSN Direct (English), RDS, RDS Direct (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-B
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
The Canadiens haven’t enjoyed a great deal of success versus the Buffalo Sabres. Despite a record book filled with lopsided head-to-head results versus most NHL franchises, the Habs have a mark of just 122-110 against Buffalo, with a further 47 games either ending in a tie or an overtime loss.
In recent years, despite the Sabres being one of the worst clubs in the NHL, the Canadiens struggled to play at a level above what a team of mostly replacement-level players could muster. Even in a 2016-17 season in which Montreal won the division while Buffalo finished at the bottom with 78 points, the Canadiens outscored the Sabres by just four goals in the season series to escape with a 2-1-1 record.
The tides turned in the matchup last season. The Canadiens swept the four-game series, scoring 11 goals to the Sabres’ three. It was the first time they’d defeated the Sabres in each meeting of a season since the New York club’s pitiful 2013-14 campaign.
Fortunately for Buffalo, finally graduating a few of their prospects to the NHL, and landing 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, should make the club a more competitive group than what it’s been for most of the 10s. Their early-season performance, which sees them currently holding down a post-season spot, suggests that things will be much different this year.
Tale of the Tape
|4-0-0||H2H Record (17-18)||0-2-2|
|53.9% (5th)||Corsi-for pct.||48.4% (19th)|
|26 (16th)||Goals for||22 (25th)|
|21 (7th)||Goals against||25 (16th)|
|20.6% (17th)||PP%||17.6% (21st)|
|77.8% (16th)||PK%||71.4% (27th)|
The Canadiens haven’t been sitting idly while the Sabres pulled themselves back into respectability. A few off-season transactions, some large jumps in performance from some of the younger talents on the team, and an additional year of experience for those on entry-level deals has Montreal playing a cohesive game, and at a high pace.
That mobility throughout the lineup has allowed Montreal to put pressure on opponents through the first eight games of the season, and as a result they have beaten expectations for a team that was, on paper, only slightly different from the club that finished 28th in the league one season ago.
It has been a full-team approach to the offence so far. The Canadiens’ top scorer, Tomas Tatar (one of those surprising off-season additions), ranks just 61st on the league scoring list. Brendan Gallagher does rank in the top 20 for goals scored, however, following up his 31-goal season on a pace that would smash that new career high.
The Sabres have been quite effective at keeping pucks out of their net to this point, ranking 12th in the league in goals against per game, at 2.78. Rasmus Ristolainen has been gettting major minutes to start the season, and while he isn’t exactly thriving in the number-one role, his play in an average of 25 minutes per game is keeping the games close enough for his teammates to be able to make their impact, while himself staying close to a 40-point pace he’s enjoyed for the last three seasons.
Six of the Sabres’ seven defencemen have already scored in the opening month of the season. Up front, Jeff Skinner is helping the team cope with the loss of Ryan O’Reilly, as the former Hurricane centreman has five goals with his new club. Jack Eichel continues to lead the team on the top line, getting over 20 minutes of ice time per game; nearly two minutes more than the second-most-used forward.
Despite their improvements, the Sabres will still have trouble with tonight’s visitor. Montreal is controlling possession on a nightly basis, and that’s something Buffalo is still not able to manage in their current state. The Canadiens’ power play has also been improving in recent games. After starting just 2-for-17, they now have at least one man-advantage goal in five consecutive games (including two on Tuesday) and are operating at 26.1% over that stretch.
With the Sabres having one of the worst penalty-killing units in the NHL, they will need to bring a disciplined approach to the rink tonight, and hope their complement of skilled forwards can pull them through.