Extended Game Recap: Montreal Canadiens shell the Buffalo Sabres
The most dominant period of the season yielded little in terms of results, but the second period changed that. The Habs blew out the Sabres and chased Ryan Miller.
After the first period today, the Canadiens had already fired 30 shots at the Buffalo net. It really looked like the Habs were going to come out of the period with nothing to show for it until Brian Gionta lead a rush up the ice and found Rene Bourque streaking to the Sabres' net for a tip in past Ryan Miller with just 8 seconds left in the period. Buffalo was completely overwhelmed by the onslaught, registering just 1 shot on goal and 4 attempts.
As the game went on, it was pretty clear that this is a set play. At least three different teams the top line burst into the Sabres' zone at speed, the puck being carried down the right wing by Gionta or Tomas Plekanec, with Bourque driving the net. Twice it ended in a Bourque goal.
The Sabres woke up a bit after the first period, but while that was happening the Canadiens were rewarded for their earlier dominance. A three goal second period saw Alex Galchenyuk register his 3rd two assist game in the last 4 games, and both David Desharnais and Lars Eller working their way out of the doghouse.
Desharnais started the game with a couple of blown plays and a bad penalty, but seemed to wake up after stepping out of the box. Something with he and Eller seemed to have clicked today, as they were tossing passes around and dominating without much involvement from Erik Cole. Eller in particular was looking dominant from the first shift of the game, and his inspired play finally got him some PK work. As for Desharnais, after 3 shots in 6 games to start the season, he had 4 yesterday alone.
Perhaps not coincidentally, it was just the second game this season where the Canadiens didn't give up a PP goal.
In his return to the lineup, P.K. Subban was very solid, but after the game he said he had some timing issues made some bad passes. He played 18:01 of solid hockey in all situations, and managed to grab an assist on Desharnais' second goal of the game by wiring a puck on net that Eller scooped away from Jhonas Enroth and slid to Desharnais for a one timer. Subban also nearly scored a goal of his own with a blistering rocket from the point that beat the Sabres netminder but hit the inside of the post and bounced out. In all, Subban sent 4 shot attempts at the Sabres goal and made several excellent interceptions in the defensive zone, one of which lead to a Galchenyuk breakaway.
Speaking of Galchenyuk, the kid was once again named the first star of the game. Personally I would have named Eller there, but he did have a great game. The 18 year old rookie went 9/11 on faceoffs, putting him at 16/24 for the last two games, a marked improvement over his first five. The improvement there was enough to put him up to 50% on the season.
In a game like that Carey Price is almost an afterthought, but aside from an early attempted poke check that Thomas Vanek saw coming, Price was flat out brilliant. There were times in the last 40 minutes of the game where Buffalo took control for long periods, and a lesser effort could have possibly blown the game. Price's stellar performance brings his even strength save percentage up to .956 on the year, and .932 overall. With league average save percentage so far being just .908, Price's start is phenomenally impressive.
The top line of Gionta, Bourque, and Plekanec sent 18 shots towards the net, 11 of which hit the target. The Eller, Desharnais, and Cole line chipped in with 13, 10 of which hit the target. The kid line managed 10, 7 of which hit the target.
As if the puck dominance wasn't enough, Steve Ott foolishly tried to spark the Sabres by jumping Brandon Prust, only to get fed fists until he fell over.
One thing that was missing from this Habs/Sabres games was the all-to-predictable Lindy Ruff Meltdown™. Usually that happens around the time the Habs take a 2-0 lead, and what follows is a period of penalty kills for Montreal, but it never happened. Maybe Ruff is resigned to the fact that his team sucks. I'm not sure.
Tomas Kaberle finally got his first point of the season, but playing only 7:28, it's tough to see him in the lineup today. It made sense to keep him in just in case Subban struggled in his first game back, but he's clearly no longer necessary.
Who replaces him? Well according to Michel Therrien, eight days after an emergency appendectomy that was supposed to keep him out for a month, Max Pacioretty is probably tomorrow. What does that mean for Lars Eller? Well most likely not much, yet. Pacioretty won't be taking a lot of minutes if he does play, so the guy who gets bumped down is likely Prust, who could center Colby Armstrong and Travis Moen, while Pacioretty plays the left with with Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Think of that line in soft minutes!
Of course eventually Pacioretty will displace Eller. The question over the next while will be when Ryan White draws back into the lineup.
When's the last time you can remember the Montreal Canadiens having 13 forwards that you want to play?