Montreal Canadiens @ Buffalo Sabres
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Three days off was a lot of time to dwell on a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild and the woeful time on special teams the Montreal Canadiens had. It was easy to project the negative elements of that match over the remainder of the season, especially when the pattern the last couple of years has been more losing than winning.
In response to the concern about what the team might be headed toward, Montreal rebounded with a better, more disciplined effort, and got a calm performance from Jake Allen against the Washington Capitals. Thanks to Cole Caufield scoring on his 12th attempt at goal and sixth scoring chance of the game, the Habs earned a second win on the season, which moved them into third spot in the Atlantic Division by points percentage.
There are still some criticisms about how the team played, mostly about the defensive play that forced Allen to be great all night long and nearly spoiled his effort. Montreal allowed a season-high 12 high-danger chances against at five-on-five. Both goals allowed came from close range, and there were also some close calls from a completely unmarked Alexander Ovechkin. That type of play is to be expected from a young blue line that ranked among the worst defensive teams last season while rookies adjusted to the top league, but right now the veteran pairing of Mike Matheson and David Savard has seen the most difficulty in limiting the opposition chances.
If it was in part due to the offensive struggles of the Capitals that the Canadiens earned a win on Sunday, they may get another reprieve tonight when they visit a Buffalo Sabres team that has been having difficulty in that category as well.
|51.2% (13th)||Scoring-chances-for %||54.2% (7th)|
|3.25 (12th)||Goals per game||2.40 (25th)|
|3.50 (22nd)||Goals against per game||3.00 )13th)|
|11.8% (24th)||PP%||6.3% (29th)|
|79.2% (15th)||PK%||94.7% (5th)|
|2-1-0||Head-to-Head Record (22-23)||1-1-1|
Coming up two points shy of making the post-season in the spring, many expect the Sabres to go one step further in the 2023-24 season and disrupt the hierarchy in the Atlantic Division. Five games into the season, they’ve won twice, and have scored only 12 times.
Last year’s 47-goal man, Tage Thompson, has one goal on his stat line so far, and it’s his only point in five matches. He wouldn’t be the first player to have difficulty in the first year of a major new contract, getting a 400% raise from $1.4 million to $7.1 million, but his performance will be critical to any success the team will have.
He did have one of the best performances of his breakout 2022-23 season versus Montreal, however, a one-goal, three-assist outing in November. He also happened to put in his best effort of the new season so far on Saturday when he had 10 shots on goal and five of those high-danger scoring chances that Montreal had such difficulty denying the Capitals.
Even with the porous defensive play, the Canadiens still led the way in chances around the crease in Saturday’s game, and they’ve done so fairly consistently to open the season. More than they’ve been on their heels, they’ve forced opponents to contend with forwards flitting around their goaltender. It’s a high-event team in Montreal at the moment, and it will be a mater of converting more chances than their opponents to get wins.
We’ve entered the season proper now after a start-stop opening. The schedule is much denser with few off days on the docket. Montreal is going to play plenty of teams with playoff aspirations, and we will have a good idea when the team hits its next three-day break on November 19 how the team, minus its second-line centre, fits into that conversation.