How to watch
Over the course of this season, the Canadiens — just starting their own rebuild — will play teams that have been invested in that process for considerable amounts of time (with varying degrees of progress). These games can serve as a measuring stick of both how much Montreal already has to work with and how much still remains for the team to accomplish.
Tale of the Tape
|44.8% (25th)||Scoring-chances-for %||47.0% (22nd)|
|2.43 (29th)||Goals per game||3.83 (4th)|
|3.00 (14th)||Goals against per game||2.67 (7th)|
|4.8% (31st)||PP%||13.6% (25th)|
|85.7% (8th)||PK%||76.2% (22nd)|
|1-3-0||H2H Record (21-22)||3-1-0|
Thursday night’s opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, is one of those teams. The Sabres last made the post-season in 2010-11. They attempted to rebuild on the fly during the next two seasons, but their four combined first-rounders during those years yielded Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Nikita Zadorov, and Rasmus Ristolainen. The full commitment was not made until 2014, when the Sabres used the second overall selection to take Sam Reinhart. They have drafted in the top 10 of every subsequent draft since, with three additional top-two selections (Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and Owen Power).
Entering the 2022-23 season, the rebuild has spanned nine drafts, five head coaches, and the first three fruits of their harvest (Reinhart, Eichel, and Alex Nylander) have already departed the organization. Through it all, the team has yet to surpass the .500 mark, peaking with a .494 points percentage in 2014-15.
Could this be the year? Dahlin rounded into form last season, tallying 53 points in 80 games. So far this year, he’s gone better with nine in six. The Sabres also invested in the future, handing out big contracts to Tage Thompson and Mattias Samuelsson. Alex Tuch, acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the return for Eichel, is clicking along at a goal-per-game pace. Even the mistakes of the past have caught second winds: Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo recorded over 30 and 20 goals last season, respectively. Add to this mix Dylan Cozens, J.J. Peterka, Owen Power, Peyton Krebs, and Jack Quinn, and the Sabres might just be turning the corner.
Four wins in six games to begin the season, including a sweep of the Western Canadian teams, would validate that impression. But there are cracks in the foundation. The Sabres have managed 14 goals at five-on-fie while giving up only nine ... while being outshot and outchanced considerably. One has to wonder what their record might look like without superlative performances from their goaltending, especially backup (for now) Craig Anderson, the holder of a .970 save percentage through two games. Starter Eric Comrie has been no slouch either, putting up a .930 before Buffalo’s most recent game, a 5-1 defeat to the Seattle Kraken, brought him back down to Earth.
While the Sabres try to keep their momentum going, the Habs are trying to recapture theirs. Consecutive losses to the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild have dampened the mood after a definitive shellacking of the Arizona Coyotes. In particular, with three goals in two games, the offence has gone cold — perhaps best represented by their 1-for-21 power play. The Sabres do rank 22nd in the league with a penalty-killing proficiency of 76.2%, so the Canadiens will have an opportunity to turn things around.
The weakness of the Habs’ power play may also be indicative of bigger problems when it comes to secondary scoring. Through seven games, only five Habs have more than two points, and three of them currently form the top line. In fact, the trio of Christian Dvorak, Brendan Gallagher, and Evgenii Dadonov have one point — combined.
Although they’ve begun the season brightly, it’s difficult to say whether the Buffalo Sabres have moved beyond their rebuild or not. That said, they definitely possess enough talented players to pose a threat to any team in the league. The Canadiens will need to reverse some trends in order to return to the win column. They would do well to take advantage of this opportunity, because a difficult three-game midwest road swing looms on the horizon.