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Canadiens vs. Sabres: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

Game 38: Montreal Canadiens vs. Buffalo Sabres

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Sabres region: MSG Buffalo
Streaming: ESPN+, RDS, TSN

If we knew when the Canadiens left the Bell Centre on December 16 that they’d return on January 4 having gone 3-3-1 on the annual holiday road trip, we probably would have been satisfied with that mark. In the end, there were a few squandered chances to post something a bit better. The four-point-swing game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, in which holding on for a regulation win could have had the two teams tied right now, was the most frustrating. However, the Canadiens started the trip four points out of a wild-card spot and ended it five points out. Unlike in most years in recent history, the season wasn’t essentially brought to an end as the calendar flipped.

If the Habs want to qualify for the playoffs, they will need to keep looking up in the standings, and that means dispatching the teams ranked around them without much fuss. The Buffalo Sabres sit three points behind them in the standings, and that gap needs to be increased to five this evening.

Canadiens Statistics Sabres
16-16-5 Record 15-19-4
45.9% (28th) Scoring-chances-for % 49.5% (20th)
2.78 (27th) Goals per game 2.92 (24th)
3.38 (23rd) Goals against per game 3.45 (25th)
18.6% (21st) PP% 12.8% (28th)
72.8% (31st) PK% 77.8% (22nd)
2-0-0 Head-to-Head Record 1-0-1

The Canadiens have dealt with the Sabres well so far, with wins in the first two of the four games they will play this season. They started off with a 3-1 win in October, and added a shootout victory in early December.

In the first game, Brendan Gallagher got credited with the game-winner. The veteran comes into this game with no goals in his last 23 games, but he played quite well on the recent road trip despite registering no points. He was Montreal’s top forward in a lot of underlying metrics, including expected-goals-for percentage, and should see some luck turn his way eventually. With Josh Anderson potentially out for some time, the Canadiens will need someone to replace the goal-scoring he had begun to provide, and Gallagher could be the one to step up in that area.

There will probably be two new forwards called up from Laval and inserted into the lineup for this game. The Habs had to abandon the concept of lines and roll 11 forwards after the injury to Christian Dvorak, and they are down to 10 with Anderson’s injury. Emil Heineman is an obvious candidate to rejoin the team after travelling with the club for the pre-Christmas trip, There are other options for a second forward, however I still wouldn’t mind seeing Justin Barron tried at forward to have a proper 12-forward, six-defenceman alignment, keeping all the offensive benefits of his play — one of the few players on the roster with some finishing ability — and not sacrificing anything on defence.

Martin St-Louis probably isn’t eager to make any changes to his defensive alignment. He was happy with the team’s play in Florida, had no cause for complaint in the Lightning match, and then saw the team do very well to get out to a 4-1 lead in Dallas. However, there is a definite decline in Barron’s ice time, with three of his four lowest minute totals coming in the past four games, playing just 11:04 in Tampa and 12:48 in Dallas.

It’s very encouraging that the good play the Habs showed in the first leg of the road trip was evident in the play, if not the scorelines, of the recent games. Some good teams are on the schedule in the month of January, and the Habs will need to prove against one of the weaker teams in the league that this current form is here for the duration.

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