This was the first home game of the new year for the Montreal Canadiens and also the first at home after a long, but successful 7 game road trip that saw them go 6-1. The home side had not played a home game since the middle of December. The game was a family-friendly afternoon contest at the Bell Centre. While the crowd was full of young present and future Habs fans the home side did not give them much to cheer about. This was a snoozer!
There was some lineup shuffling for the Canadiens as both Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei, are on the sidelines with what are being described as day-to-day injuries. Max Pacioretty took Andrei's place on the 1st line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. Replacing Pacioretty on the 3rd line was Matt D'Agostini. Defenceman Ryan O'Byrne was out of the lineup and did not practice the day before due to "family reasons". Paul Mara is back from a hand injury, so Marc-André Bergeron would play up on the 4th line with Georges Laraque and Maxim Lapierre. To round out the roster, Carey Price got the start in nets.
The entire blame for the lackluster game cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the fatigued Montreal players. The Buffalo Sabres play that type of game. They rely on goaltender Ryan Miller to make big saves and they cash in on the few scoring chances they get. Buffalo's scorers have fewer goals this season, but they are tighter defensively. They have made the sacrifice in order to become a better overall team.
The Habs came out of the gates fast, which is a change for them this season. The only reason they were not up by a couple of goals in the 1st period was the stellar play of Miller. Conversely, Habs' goaltender Price looked shaky at times, but he managed to make the save when called upon.
After coming out like gangbusters in the 1st period, Montreal seemed to be slowing down in the 2nd. They must be a tired team from all that traveling during the holiday season. Even someone like Plekanec's legs seem to be giving out on him. From about the 5:00 minute mark the Sabres were controlling the game and not giving the Canadiens any chances to score.
The Sabres took the lead just before the 7 minute mark in the 2nd when Jason Pominville saucered a nice backhand pass to Tim Connelly in front of the Habs' net. Benoit Pouliot, who was playing his first home game for the Canadiens and covering Connelly, couldn't stop and continued on behind the net putting him out of position. Connelly's tip hit Price's stick and then the post. It came right back out to him and he did not make a mistake the second time. Now on top of being tired the Canadiens found themselves behind the Sabres 1-0.
Buffalo really tightened up defensively in the 3rd period. There was no space for the Habs to create chances. Buffalo was perfectly happy with a 1-0 road victory.
In the last half of the 3rd period Jacques Martin started juggling his lines in an effort to get his team going. Nothing really worked until the last 2 minutes of the period. Benoit Pouliot had a good scoring chance as did Mike Cammalleri, but they could not put one past Miller. Even when the Habs pulled Price for an extra attacker they could not score.
It is too bad that their first game in a long time in front of their fans did not turn out better for the Canadiens. The traveling they did during the holidays really took its toll on the team and they did not have the legs in the end of the game to push the Sabres harder.
On the bright side, Pouliot continued his strong play on a line with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez. He is really fitting in nicely with the two former Devils players. He had several good scoring chances during the game. Pouliot is big, has nice hands and is a fast skater, so he fits in well with his two linemates. He, unlike Guillaume Latendresse, also has been demonstrating that he is willing to go to the front of the net to create chances.
It is back on the road for the Habs as their next game will be Tuesday night in Washington against Ovechkin and the Capitals.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Stephane Auger and Tom Kowal
Linesmen: Pierre Champoux and Michel Cormier
-Goals: 2nd Period:
6:56: Buffalo – Tim Connelly assisted by Jason Pominville and Johan Hecht
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 30
-3 Stars: 1) Ryan Miller – Buffalo
2) Tyler Myers – Buffalo
3) Benoit Pouliot – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 0