Montreal Canadiens vs Buffalo Sabres @ First Niagara Centre – April 11, 2013

All the success that the Montreal Canadiens have had this season is in large part due to the style of team play they have been engaging in.  They are not the most skilled team in the league or the biggest, but they have committed to a style that suits their biggest strength (team speed) and have stuck together when it has been needed.  A good example of that happened last night in the 2nd period with the Canadiens leading 3-0.  A frustrated Steve Ott was running around looking for trouble and he leveled the diminutive Brandon Gallagher with a clean but severe hit.  Veteran (but again not the biggest guy) defenceman pounced on Ott as soon as the whistle blew and proceeded to hold his own against the Sabres tough guy.  The message was sent that you could not take liberties against his teammates without expecting some retribution.

This sense of team and sticking together has served the Habs well this season.  Anytime they have had an off game, which has not been that often, they have bounced back the next game.  On Tuesday they played against the Washington Capitals besides losing the game 3-2 it was not one of their most glowing moments.  Though this season fans have not really had to worry if one bad game will equal a five game losing streak.  It was a bounce back game and in a big way.

The Buffalo Sabres are having a miserable season.  They are in the process of missing the playoffs for the 4th time in 6 seasons.  Since the last time the Habs and Sabres met (a 2-1 victory by the Sabres) the Buffalo side has gone through a lot of change.  Jason Pominville, TJ Brennan, Robin Reghr, and Jordan Leopold had all been traded.  Basically they are a team just going through the motions and Montreal took advantage of that.

Getting the starting assignment in nets was back-up Peter Budaj.  It was Budaj’s 8th start of the season.  He’s an appreciated player in the Habs’ dressing room and has good chemistry with number one man, Carey Price.  Budaj recently signed a contract extension of 2 years/$2.8 million.  He has earned that extension as his record so far this season was 6-1-1 and he knows he is the back-up so has the right attitude.

An interesting aspect of the game was that if Montreal was to win and a couple of other things were to happen that would mean Montreal would lock up a playoff spot.  It has been many years since Montreal has been in the position to secure a playoff position with as many as 9 games remaining in the season.

Montreal has this season scored the 1st goal of the game in 28 of 40 games (70%).  In this game they not only did that, but scored the first 4 goals of the game.  Over most of the game it was total domination by Montreal.  They were first to the puck and kept the Sabres hemmed in their end for long stretches.  This outplaying the opposition led to goals by Brian Gionta (1st period – 6:43), Alex Galchenyuk (1st period – 10:26), Brandon Gallagher (2nd period – 4:36) and Andrei Markov (2nd period – 17:54) over the game’s first 40 minutes.  Buffalo had no answer to Montreal’s speed and just offered the barest of resistance.

With the 4-0 lead Michel Therrien was able to continue using all four of his lines and not having to overuse anyone.  Buffalo was able to get 1 goal at 5:45 of the 3rd period.  It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Flynn.  Oddly enough despite their underwhelming season Buffalo has been dangerous on the penalty kill with this goal being their 7th shorthanded marker of the season.  It was a momentary setback for Montreal as they were able to reestablish their 4 goal lead at 17:19 on the power play when PK Subban rocketed one past Jhonas Enroth, who had taken over for Ryan Miller to start the 3rd.

There were plenty of highlights in the Montreal victory.  With the victory combined with Boston’s loss the Habs moved back into 1st place in the Northeast and 2nd overall in the East.  Subban, Markov, Ryder and Pacioretty all notched 2 points.  The Desharnais-Gallagher-Pacioretty line looked good.  Jeff Halpern played his 900th game in the NHL.  With his 7th win in a row Budaj has more wins than Jaroslav Halak does for the St. Louis Blues.

There are 16 days left until the end of the season and 5 out of 8 remaining games for Montreal will be on the road.  Montreal’s next game is Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Dave Jackson and Kelly Sutherland

Linesmen – Brad Kovachik and Mark Shewchyk

-Goals:  1st Period:

6:43:  Montreal – Brian Gionta assisted by Tomas Plekanek and Rene Bourque

10:27:  Montreal – Alex Galchenyuk assisted by Michael Ryder

2nd Period:

4:36:  Montreal – Brendan Gallagher assisted by Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais

17:54:  Montreal – (pp) Andrei Markov assisted by PK Subban and Michael Ryder

3rd Period:

6:45:  Buffalo – (sh) Brian Flynn assisted by Kevin Porter and Andrey Sekera

17:19:  Montreal – (pp) PK Subban assisted by Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 42

Buffalo – 15

-3 Stars:  1)  PK Subban – Montreal

2)  Michael Ryder – Montreal

3)  Brendan Gallagher – Montreal

-Attendance:  19,070

-Final Score:  Montreal – 5

Buffalo – 1