It was not only the last game of the preseason for the Habs, but a game against a team they are going to have to face eight times during the regular season. The NHL rosters are basically set at this point with less that one week left until the season begins. It also is a time when rivalries between division foes are established. This was to be a game where each team would try to be sending a message to the other. It was preseason, but it would be an important game for each of the teams.
For the Habs regulars Mike Cammalleri, Andrei Markov, Sergei Kostityn, Georges Laraque, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak were not in uniform. The Sabres left Johan Hecht, Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder in the press box. Ryan Miller was between the pipes for the Sabres and Carey Price for the home side. Both played the whole game.
Canadiens veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik, who had been sick for most of the preseason, had a tough beginning to the game. He was caught imitating a traffic cone as speedy Buffalo winger Clarke MacArthur sped around him then put a nice move on Price to put the visitors up 1-0 when the game was a mere 0:55 old. Not the debut Hamrlik had in mind, I'm sure.
Things did not get any better when at 10:38 of the first period Nathan Gerbe was allowed to get behind the Habs' defence and roofed a backhand past Price. Being behind 2-0 was a bit deceiving because they were outplaying the visitors.
Besides outplaying the Sabres the new-look Habs were also standing up for each other. When at 2:53 of the 1st period the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta hit Taylor Pyatt from behind along the boards. While Pyatt was trying gather his legs beneath him defenceman Ryan O'Byrne jumped to his teammate's defense. Despite the fact that O'Byrne collected 17 penalty minutes (2 minutes instigator, 5 minutes for fighting and a 10 minute misconduct) I'm sure coach Jacques Martin was happy that his 6'5" defenceman was imposing himself physically and that one teammate stood up for another. Unfortunately Pyatt never returned and is said to be suffering from an upper body injury. Kaleta did not return either as he was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure.
The outplaying of the Sabres continued in the second half of the 2nd period and they finally broke through on the power play goal off a pretty pass from Tomas Plekanec to Brian Gionta alone in the slot. His quick release did not allow Miller to get fully set for the shot and it found its way past the Sabres netminder.
After putting some more pressure on the Sabres deep in their own end, centre Maxim Lapierre slapped a shot through the five-hole that knotted the game at 2-2. The goal came with a mere 0:23 left in the 2nd period. There's nothing like a late period goal to lift a team and the crowd.
The buzz from the late goal had barely abated by the time the 3rd period began. That buzz grew to a roar when Gregory Stewart scored his first NHL goal at 5:36. The goal was a result of some hard work by Glen Metropolit and Scott Gomez. Metropolit's hustle caused a turnover deep in the Sabres' end and Gomez battle for it behind the net. He put it out in front and Stewart roofed a shot over Miller's left shoulder.
3-2 is how the game ended. The game was won and the message that this was a team that despite their small size would not back down from physical play. This is a team that is showing that they know how to play as a team. Already a step ahead of last year! The preseason can be seen as a success just for that reason.
After a decent preseason (4-3) the team is now leaving for a team bonding trip to Teen Ranch Canada (northwest of Toronto). They will spend the next three days in near isolation together as a team. Here's to hoping they will have a chance to charge their batteries as they begin the season with a gruelling 15-day road trip.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Don VanMassenhoven and Francois St. Laurent
Linesmen: Derek Amell and Tony Sericolo
-Goals: 1st Period:
0:55 – Buffalo – Clarke MacArthur assisted by Chris Butler
10:30 – Buffalo – Nathan Gerbe unassisted
12:32 – Montreal – (pp) Brian Gionta assisted by Tomas Plekanec and Jaroslav Spacek
19:37 – Montreal – Maxim Lapierre assisted by Glen Metropolit and Roman Hamrlik
5:36 – Montreal – Gregory Stewart assisted by Glen Metropolit and Scott Gomez
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 21
-3 Stars: 1) Brian Gionta – Montreal
2) Maxim Lapierre – Montreal
3) Ryan Miller – Buffalo