How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: Sportsnet (English)
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG-Buffalo
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / NHL Live
Saturday night at the Scotiabank Arena sure was something, wasn’t it? Broken sticks, defencemen taking penalty shots, 4-1 leads, Carey Price breakaway saves, goals galore from Habs players whose last names start with “D”, and one hell of a comeback win.
Oh, mustn’t forget: Shea Weber took some slapshots on the power play.
Now that the adrenaline has had some time to wear off and the heart palpitations have ceased, the Canadiens head to upstate New York to face the Atlantic Division’s second seed, the Buffalo Sabres.
Tale of the Tape
|1-1-2||H2H Record (18-19)||3-0-1|
|50.9% (14th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.0% (7th)|
|4.00 (9th)||Goals per game||4.33 (7th)|
|4.00 (23rd)||Goals against per game||2.33 (5th)|
|33.3% (6th)||PP%||60.0% (2nd)|
|75.0% (17th)||PK%||70.0% (22nd)|
Ever since firing Lindy Ruff back in 2012, the Buffalo Sabres have resided near, or in the basement of, the Northeast/Atlantic Division. Despite seven consecutive years of having a top-10 draft selection, the Sabres have yet to complete a season with a .500 or greater winning percentage since the adoption of the Atlantic Division and topping the 80-point threshold only once.
Despite this futility, the Sabres have always managed to be a thorn in the side of the Canadiens. While the Habs have, more often then not, emerged victorious in their encounters with the ex-Buffaslugs (16-7-6 since the end of the last lockout), games against the Sabres have been classic “trap” encounters where the Canadiens play down to the level of their opposition.
Last season, the Habs marched into Buffalo on the back of a 3-2 win over the eventual Pacific Division champions Calgary Flames. The team had nine points out of a possible 10 in their last five games, and had just outshot the Flames 40-23 in their most recent win. Two nights later, the Canadiens blew three leads as the Sabres poured 42 shots on Antti Niemi en route to a 4-3 win. This disappointment was followed by two more seesaw battles, both won by the Sabres in overtime, before the Habs were able to re-assert their authority on the rivalry to some extent with a convincing 7-4 win in March.
Entering this season, the Sabres might actually be finally marching towards respectability. After being subject to trade rumours for most of the latter half of last season, 40-goal-man Jeff Skinner chose to stay with the club, signing an eight-year contract worth $72 million. Rasmus Dahlin may not have won the Calder Trophy, but a 44-point rookie campaign is nothing to sneeze at. The Sabres also managed to bolster their ranks in the offseason, acquiring Colin Miller from a cap-strapped Vegas Golden Knights and signing unrestricted free agent Marcus Johansson. Former first-rounder Alexander Nylander was exchanged for mobile puck-moving defenceman Henri Jokiharju, a move that, according to Die by the Blade, was “in line with [general manager Jason] Botterill’s focus on acquiring puck movers that can skate well.”
The biggest acquisition for Buffalo likely came behind the bench with the dismissal of Phil Housley and hiring of Ralph Krueger. While the former coach of the Swiss national team hasn’t coached an NHL team since 2013, he is well-known in both hockey and sporting circles, least of all as the former chairman of Southampton FC of the English Premier League. Krueger brings an emphasis on communication, tactical diversity, and a wealth of experience to the Sabres coaching staff, and is a considerable departure in background and approach not just from Housley, but from his predecessors Dan Bylsma and Ted Nolan.
As difficult as it may be to fathom, the Buffalo Sabres are now a young up-and-coming team bolstered by leadership on the ice and behind the bench. For a Montreal Canadiens team that is potentially still lingering on the last vestiges of Saturday night’s wave of emotions, the Sabres represent a true self-examination of their growth over the last year. After gaining points where they shouldn’t have, can the Habs now win a game that they should?