Canadiens vs Sabres: Game preview, start time, and TV schedule

Eight days removed from a comedy of errors against the Sabres, can the Canadiens take advantage of their chance at a do-over?

Eight days ago, the Montreal Canadiens were in a bad place.

They were a floundering squad, coming off three straight losses and playing one of the league's worst teams on the business end of a back-to-back. With their Stanley Cup chances gone up in smoke, and their identity as a skillful, persistent squad gone with them, the Habs laid down and lost to the Sabres. The Tricolore were embracing the tank.

Facing that same squad, just over a week later, things look considerably different. The Canadiens have three straight wins, and while the odds are long, their playoff chances look much brighter than they did going into their last game against Buffalo. Even better, the Habs have found some stability in the right places, with Ben Scrivens holding down the fort in net and the ostensible first line of Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, and Brendan Gallagher red-hot on offence.

The Canadiens won't get a do-over on their season, but with the team finally enjoying some stable goaltending, and generating some high quality chances on offence, they look prepared to at least make some noise down the stretch. That starts tonight, with a re-do on one of their most discouraging efforts to date.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Sabres region: MSG
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Sabres
27-24-4 Record 21-27-6
4-6-0 L10 Record 4-4-2
52.8 Score-Adjusted Corsi % 46.8
151 Goals For 125
146 Goals Against 150
1.00 5v5 Goal Ratio 0.73
17.8 PP% 21.1
83.9 PK% 81.2

* All stats are before Thursday night's games.

Know Your Enemy

The Buffalo Sabres are a team on the upswing.

To that, the cynical observer may reply that there's really only one direction to go from the type of historically poor season they suffered last year. But when one considers their young talent, it's clear that the Sabres have designs on contention in the future.

Ryan O'Reilly is smack in the middle of his prime, and leading the team in scoring. The two centres behind him on the depth chart, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, with sixteen goals each, are also contributing in the present. And Rasmus Ristolainen, the 21-year-old Finn, is already the anchor of his team's defence corps.

But tonight, the Sabres will still more closely resemble their recent past than their imminent future. They are one of the league's worst score-adjusted possession teams, and have enjoyed goaltending roughly equal to what Montreal has received at even strength so far. Despite the presence of a few hyper-talented weapons, they remain a bottom-third team in the NHL when it comes to producing high-danger scoring chances.

It may not be apparent to the Canadiens fan who watched the western New York squad advance on Mike Condon at will not long ago, but this is a team the Habs should be able to handle. Tonight, they'll get another chance to prove they can.

Last Time Out

If one were searching for an early indicator of how the Canadiens' last game against Buffalo was going to go, Marcus Foligno scoring the opening goal while occupying an uncontested area best measured in hectares would likely suffice. The Sabres entered the Canadiens' zone, and Cody Franson rolled the puck down the boards towards Zemgus Girgensons and Jeff Petry. With little objection from the Canadiens defender, Girgensons claimed the puck and looked toward the centre of the defensive zone. It would have been around this time that he realized that Alexei Emelin had entirely abandoned his post, leaving him to spring the aforementioned Foligno for an easy tally.

The Canadiens actually took the lead after that point, first tying the game with a tap-in by Dale Weise that came after consecutive cross-ice passes from P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. Then came the game's real masterpiece, in which Alex Galchenyuk collected the puck at the sideboards off an offensive zone draw, and drove toward the goal line. O'Reilly came out to challenge him, only to have his charge go backhand-to-forward with impeccable dexterity. Galchenyuk then used his well-earned open ice to deposit a backhander through Robin Lehner's five-hole.

But the Montreal Canadiens of last week could not have nice things, and thus, they were betrayed by one of the only consistent elements of their game: their penalty kill. A high cycle came to the stick of Ristolainen, who observing that P.K. Subban was higher than the passing lane he was supposed to be blocking, found an unhindered Jamie McGinn in front to even things up again.

Max Pacioretty had the chance to put his team back in front, but couldn't place his breakaway wrister and instead propelled the puck into Lehner's midsection. That missed opportunity would prove significant, as the Sabres again capitalized on some abhorrent defensive zone coverage. The Sabres won an offensive zone face-off, and got a quick shot on goal from the blue line. Condon punched the rebound out to the far right, where Jake McCabe was waiting. McCabe glided toward the goal line and threw a pass toward Johan Larsson, who was fixed just above Condon's crease. Larsson was sandwiched between Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert, but when neither defender elected to tie-up Larsson's stick, he deposited what would stand as the game-winning goal.

Bleak as that game was, there is hope eight days later. The Canadiens are three days removed from holding the high-powered Lightning to only five high-danger chances. Translated into Sabres dollars, that same performance could result in Josh Gorges chipping a few pucks in on Lehner himself. Joking aside though, the Habs teams that showed up against the Oilers, Hurricanes, and Lightning were much more disciplined in their defensive positioning, and much more creative in their offensive forays. If they can replicate those efforts tonight, they should come out one step closer to the playoff picture.

Game highlights are available on YouTube.

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