Forty years to the day the Buffalo Sabres played their first NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Habs were at it again by winning and spoiling their party.
This game was not one of the most exciting games you’ll ever see in your life and the Sabres, who seem to lose key players year-after-year but always remain competitive, might not be able to pull off the same feat this season.
Losing minute-munching defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman to free-agency might prove too much to overcome for the Sabres this season. Add to that mix the early season loss of Jason Pominville to a concussion, and there isn’t a lot that the Sabres can muster as a team trying to make the playoffs. As such, the Sabres look disorganized on the ice last night as their 14 giveaways —to the Habs four—illustrated.
To their credit, the Habs played a solid road game, outshooting their opponent 28-23 on the night, and take two important divisional points in the process.
While the Habs were the better team for a good part of the game, they unfortunately sat back in their defensive shell far too early in the night. With a one-goal lead early in the third period, the Habs let the Sabres take the play to them and were it not for another excellent performance by Carey Price, the game might have been lost.
One thing is certain and is that this is going to be a tough year for the Sabres.
Final Score: Habs 2 – Sabres 1
Habs scorers: Alexandre Picard (1), Josh Gorges (1)
Sabres scorers: Derek Roy (5)
1. Four games for Price, four excellent performances.
With a fourth solid performance in a row, Price is becoming as steady as a metronome. Stopping 22 out of 23 shots in the game, Price wasn’t tested that much. But when he was, he was ready.
Price’s focus was apparent all night as he exhibited good rebound control, excellent positioning, and a sort of calm that hasn’t been visible from him in the past. It looks like he might have learned the secret of the middle ground—not getting to high when he makes a great save and not getting too low when he lets in a goal.
2. Andrei Kostitsyn played his best game of the season, despite not showing up on the scoresheet.
Sure, that might sound like an oxymoron, but in AK46′s case, it is not.
Unlike in all of his previous seasons where Kostitsyn has taken a good 20 games to get engaged, he has so far seemed ready to play from the first game of the season. Last night was no exception as Kostitsyn was flying on the ice; making hits, digging pucks out of the corners, showing great position in front of and around the net, and using his incredible shot to good effect. That he didn’t produce any points is irrelevant.
The knock on AK46 has never been about him producing but rather about him giving a full effort 100% of the time. If he keeps playing the way he has so far in this still young season, look for him to finally break that 30-goal mark this year and earn himself a contract extension in the summer.
3. Pouliot played 11:34 on the fourth line and was pretty much invisible.
I understand that the Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Benoit Pouliot line has not been effective so far this season, but against Tampa Pouliot had his best game of the season. As such, I personally would have given that line until the end of the weekend to see if they could get going. But alas, Jacques Martin is the coach and not I, and Martin saw fit to bump Pouliot—the only one who was playing well on the second line—down to the fourth line in place of Travis Moen. No offense to Moen because he plays his heart out, but he just doesn’t have the skill level to play with Gomez and Gionta.
As a result of Pouliot’s demotion, he was completely invisible last night. Way to kill the one part of that line that was actually playing will, Jacques!
4. Habs finally produce on the man-advantage.
Josh Gorges broke the power play goose egg for the Habs at 18:55 of the second period to make it a 2-0 game. The goal was the team’s first power play marker through four regular season games and twelve opportunities. The result is a scintillating 8.3% power play efficiency rate.
The other good news last night was the Alexandre Picard scored his first of the season meaning that a defensive corp that had a total of three assists over the course of the first three games, registered four points last night—Roman Hamrlik and P.K. Subban each had an assist.
If the Habs are going to be successful this season they will need their power play to be much more productive that it has been so far, and they will also need more offensive contributions from the back end. Let’s hope last night was a first positive step in that direction.
5. Eller, Lapierre, Halpern had another great night
Lars Eller, Maxim Lapierre and Jeff Halpren are really starting to develop some nice chemistry together and it would be nice to see them rewarded with a few more goals. But I’m not worried about that.
The way they’ve been playing, results should show up in no time! But for now, they form a formidable third line that should be able to provide some scoring depth for the Habs.
6. Is No. 11 too heavy for Gomez to carry?
Gomez was again invisible last night and so too was Gionta, his lifelong linemate.
While Gionta was also not very effective he did get off a few dangerous shots on net. The experiment with Moen on their line did not bear fruit and the second line, as a result, continues to be a no-show.
From where I sit, the problem seems to be Gomez who, for some reason, does not seem to have his timing right. He seems to constantly be one step behind, one foot off on his passes, and constantly out of sync. I don’t know if this is because of some kind of psychological factor, an injury, or the fact that he maybe that he just needs a little time to warm up. Whatever the problem is, he needs to sort it out quickly because the Canadiens will go nowhere this season as a one-line scoring team.
I, for one, was never a fan of Gomez wearing No. 11 on his back as he is doing this season. To me, every time I see him in that jersey it bothers me somehow, psychologically.
If you are being paid like a No.1 center and you are wearing the No. 11 on your back, you have to bring it, every shift. This is sadly not something that Gomez has yet done this season. Hopefully for the Habs sake, he turns that trend around real soon.
Standings and Next Game
The win gives the Canadiens five points in the standings, putting them three points back of the first place Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is no rest for the wicked, as the Canadiens take on the Ottawa Senators in Montreal tonight. While it is still early in the season, these points accumulated against division rivals can pay dividends in March so the Habs need to bring their ‘A’ game. The interesting story line for tonight will be the second line and what Martin decides to do with it.