How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: Sportsnet East, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG Buffalo
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
It hasn’t been a good season for the Buffalo Sabres. Seventy-one points through 73 games wasn’t the pre-season projection after the team acquired Jeff Skinner in August having already landed the top prospect available, Rasmus Dahlin, in the NHL Entry Draft. The team ranks near the bottom of the league in goals scored and allowed, and that’s no recipe for success.
A failed season can’t be hung on those two players, however. Skinner has already tied his career high of 37 goals, while Dahlin is having a stellar first year in the NHL, just about to hit the 40-point mark, behind only Elias Pettersson and the 24-year-old Andreas Johnsson for the rookie scoring lead.
The Sabres have just four wins in their last 18 games. Oddly enough, all have come versus playoff teams. Montreal is one club that won’t be shocked by that bit of trivia. Back in a playoff spot, they can also claim to be one of those teams that have had difficulty versus a franchise about to miss the post-season for an eighth consecutive year.
Tale of the Tape
|54.2% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||49.4% (16th)|
|2.93 (18th)||Goals per game||2.70 (25th)|
|2.88 (12th)||Goals against per game||3.21 (23rd)|
|12.3% (31st)||PP%||18.3% (18th)|
|80.6% (17th)||PK%||81.8% (7th)|
The Canadiens have played the Sabres three times this year, and have been on the wrong end of a one-goal decision in each game: one regulation loss followed by two overtime defeats, all in the span of a month.
At least the Habs can point to the fact that their opponent wasn’t nearly as hopeless from late October to late November as they now are at the end of the season. The first loss on October 25 gave the Sabres a respectable 6-4 record. A wild 6-5 game on November 8 kicked off a 10-game winning streak for Buffalo, a charge that ran Montreal over again on November 23 and moved them to within a point of top spot in the NHL.
Tonight, it’s Montreal riding the wave of momentum, with three straight quality performances, and consecutive wins. They didn’t let a shutout loss versus the Chicago Blackhawks be the season-spoiler it looked to be at the time, dispatching the Philadelphia Flyers in their next game before a convincing 4-0 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday.
It’s also true that Carey Price is back to being himself when it matters most for his team. At the end of the last game versus Buffalo, Price had a season save percentage of .895. Since then, he has a mark of .926, and only Andrei Vasilevskiy and Martin Jones have earned more wins.
The positive results for Montreal and the struggles of the Columbus Blue Jackets since the trade deadline should both be motivating factor for the Canadiens. Seeing their solid play pull them back into a playoff spot will provide a bit of positive reinforcement for top-liners like the tireless Brendan Gallagher and bottom-pairing defenders like Jordie Benn alike.
After tonight’s game, Montreal hits the road for a quick trip to Carolina, going toe-to-toe with a Hurricanes team currently two points ahead. It’ll be important for the Canadiens to keep their focus on what could be a trap game, because getting swept by the Sabres isn’t a result they can afford.