How to watch
Start time: 4:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-B
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
It’s been tough sledding for the Montreal Canadiens of late. Despite a great season in the offensive zone that has them in the top half of the league for goals, more often than not over the last few weeks that hasn’t been enough to overcome the number of pucks entering their own net.
Two 3-2 wins to end the Western Canada road trip seemed to be a sign of things turning, but instead just temporarily broke a run of allowing four goals or more, which has happened the other six times in the last eight games. The defensive performance on Wednesday night in New Jersey may have been the worst of them all, with little actual defending occurring in front of Carey Price.
It was the previous game in the season series with the Buffalo Sabres that really brought the starting netminder under intense scrutiny. He sat out the next two matches, including a Saturday night home game, before coming back in to lead the club to those two victories.
Tale of the Tape
|52.1% (6th)||Corsi-for pct.||49.2% (20th)|
|70 (12th)||Goals for||68 (14th)|
|75 (28th)||Goals against||62 (11th)|
|13.8% (28th)||PP%||18.1% (21st)|
|78.9% (19th)||PK%||82.5% (5th)|
The Habs were unable to stop Jeff Skinner in the meeting on November 8. He scored a go-ahead goal and then a tying goal later in the contest to get his team to overtime, where the Sabres won thanks to a Rasmus Ristolainen goal.
Buffalo hasn’t looked back after that game, reeling off another six wins since to sport the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. Victories have come versus the Winnipeg Jets, in a massive comeback effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road, and by holding the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, to just a single goal in a 2-1 win.
That title of best in the East could be switching hands if the Sabres can pull out an eighth straight win (should a few other results also go in their favour). It’s quite a change for a team that was the laughing stock of the league just a few short years ago, and that’s keeping teams in the Atlantic Division on their toes.
In an attempt to prevent a third loss of the season to the upstart squad from Buffalo, the Canadiens have made one change on defence, bringing up Brett Kulak from the Laval Rocket. The Canadiens are hoping he can provide a stabilizing element for the team in its own zone. In 71 games with the Calgary Flames last season, he ranked in the top four on the club in Corsi-for percentage (52.3%) and scoring chances against per 60 minutes (24.6), which the Canadiens hope he can replicate right out of the gate.
Solid defensive play has been one of the hallmarks of the 2018-19 Sabres, a major turnaround for the team that was 29th in goal against just last season. Carter Hutton’s .917 save percentage is about average, but that is a significant improvement from the performances the Sabres got last season with .908 and .897 marks from Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, respectively.
Despite the long winning streak today’s opponent enjoys, the Canadiens are still hanging onto a good position in the Eastern Conference, especially considering the players they’re missing at the moment. A loss to the Sabres is going to make it more difficult to gain ground on the top seeds in the division as the season goes on, so the Habs will need to ensure they give everything they have at both ends of the ice this afternoon.