How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the In the Sabres region: MSG-Buffalo
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the Montreal Canadiens on their New York road trip. A nail-biting comeback victory over the Islanders was accompanied with a limp third-period collapse against the Rangers, and the Habs return home having alternated victories and defeats since October 17.
The last time the Canadiens played the Buffalo Sabres, the Habs were riding high, having accumulated 9 points of a possible 10 in their last five games. Despite three one-goal leads, the Canadiens eventually fell to a resilient Buffalo squad 4-3 on a Kyle Okposo power-play goal scored with 1:01 remaining—a power play resulting from a call that was, shall we say, slightly generous.
Tale of the Tape
|53.7% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||50.7% (11th)|
|46 (15th)||Goals for||43 (18th)|
|45 (18th)||Goals against||44 (16th)|
|15.3% (26th)||PP%||19.6% (17th)|
|83.3% (7th)||PK%||77.8% (21st)|
That victory, marking the team’s third in a row, is the high point of the Sabres season thus far. Since then, Buffalo has dropped four of five decisions, albeit two of the four defeats came in overtime and the one win was a 9-2 shellacking of the Ottawa Senators. That one game aside, the Sabres’ struggles have largely come as a result of their offence drying up, scoring only four goals combined in their last three losses.
The recent struggles have forced head coach Phil Housley to shake up his roster a bit. Most notably, after starting the season on the second pair with Jake McCabe, wonderkid Rasmus Dahlin has been moved to the third pairing beside Casey Nelson. Up front, Sam Reinhart has seen his ice-time increase at the expense of Conor Sheary, but the dangermen remain the line of Jason Pominville, Jack Eichel, and Jeff Skinner.
This Sabres team is not one that is afraid to shoot the puck—putting up 40 or more shots on net in their last three games and five of their last seven—but as stated above, the volume of pucks hasn’t translated into a proportional volume of goals. Even still, the Canadiens cannot have a repeat of last game, where Buffalo outshot them 42-22 and enjoyed nearly twice as many faceoffs in the Habs’ defensive zone versus their own, and expect to walk out of the Bell Centre with two points on Thursday night.
For the Canadiens, Max Domi continued his torrid start to the season with his ninth goal of the year while Tomas Tatar broke a 10-game drought with a brace against the Rangers. However, the Canadiens will need more from their other weapons, including Jonathan Drouin (1 goal in his last five games, -7), Artturi Lehkonen, and Phillip Danault (both 0 goals in their last five games). The fourth line too needs to start contributing offensively, as Matthew Peca has one assist in 10 games while Nicolas Deslauriers will prepare to play in his 10th game since his return from injury having yet to hit the score sheet outside of the PIM category.
Carey Price will probably get the start on Thursday night, hoping to rebound from a 5-goals-against performance that was hardly entirely his fault. Across the ice from him, the Sabres will likely go with Carter Hutton, a career backup with career backup numbers (4-6-1 record, .909 save percentage). The Sabres do have another option though in backup Linus Ullmark (3-0-1, .934 save percentage). Ullmark played two games ago though, so unless coach Housley is intending to move towards a goaltending platoon or have Ullmark take over the starting position altogether, it should be Hutton who takes the Bell Centre ice for the anthems.
The last time these two teams met, coming in with all the momentum in the world, the Canadiens played their worst game of the year (to that point), yet were one minute and one bad call away from taking an undeserved point (and maybe more) against the Sabres. Clearly, the Habs have the talent and ability to take the full two points against a reeling Buffalo team on Thursday night—the question is whether they will rise to the occasion and seize the day, or will we see a repeat of October 25th?