The Montreal Canadiens opened up their season on the road versus the Buffalo Sabres, starting off with a win after an off-season full of turnover. Seven consecutive losses after that game set the tone for what became a disastrous year for a team that had claimed the Atlantic Division title in 2016-17. In the first game back in Buffalo since opening night, the Habs and Sabres are about as far from a playoff position as they could possibly be.
For both teams, a loss tonight would be an ideal outcome. The Habs would take their 10th loss in their past 11 games, continuing a fall down the standings/rise up the draft board. The Sabres would secure their place at the very bottom of the list of 31 teams.
The players aren’t ones to opt for that strategy, however, looking to win every game they play. Even the lowly Sabres have found a way to win six of ther last 13 games, and this from a team that had just 17 victories through the first 60 games.
How tonight’s game plays out on the scoreboard is anyone’s guess. Two bottom-three offensive teams will face a bottom-five defensive squad, so there will be little resistance when play gets into the offensive zone, however often that is.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-B
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL GameCentre Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
The Canadiens have come out on top in each of the three previous meetings with the Sabres this year, needing extra time in two of those to take all six points available. Montreal has scored seven goals in those games (eight if you count the shootout-winner from Jonathan Drouin in his first game in a Habs sweater) versus just three in total from Buffalo.
Thanks to a 36-save shutout from Carey Price, the Sabres didn’t score a single goal in the last game the teams played in late November. While Price has returned to game action, the team will likely hold him for the home portion of this weekend’s back-to-back, opting for Antti Niemi in tonight’s game.
The Finnish netminder has been performing well for the Canadiens, often being the best player on the ice in many of his most recent starts. He held the Florida Panthers to just two goals on Monday, but got no help on offence in a 2-0 loss.
If the Habs are going to see a few milestones reached before the end of the season, they will need to take advantage of opportunities like the one the Sabres present tonight. Brendan Gallagher is still in need of four goals to reach 30 on the season, and has been stuck at 26 for the past four games. Paul Byron is three away from recording back-to-back 20-goal seasons after being cast away by the Calgary Flames before the 2015-16 campaign.
For the Sabres, Jack Eichel’s quest for his first 60-point season in the NHL continues. Despite his last two years being marred by injuries, he’s been tantalizingly close to hitting that mark, and needs six points in the final nine games to achieve it. It’s not exactly what Sabres fans had in mind for a late-season storyline three years after selecting second overall in the 2015 draft, but at least they have a young star flirting with becoming a point-per-game player, and one who can be built around should the team ever figure out a way to turn a high draft position into future success.