Montreal Canadiens vs. Buffalo Sabres @ First Niagara Center – March 16, 2014

Coming into this game versus the Sabres you knew it could not be as good a game as the previous night.  Montreal’s 5-4 overtime win against the Senators the night before was a heart stopper with the Habs scoring 3 goals over the last 3 and half minutes to tie the game at 4-4 to have Francois Bouillon win it in overtime with his first goal of the season.  Exciting stuff!  An emotional high like that usually leads to something of the more regular variety the next time the team hits the ice and such was the case against the league worst Buffalo side.

It was the second game in 24 hours for the two teams.  Montreal was looking for the perfect St. Patrick’s weekend after defeating Ottawa.  They were up against a team in trouble.  Buffalo had lost 5 in a row and are coming to the end of a season to forget.  They fired their coach and now have the dreaded “interim” coach (Ted Nolan), traded several of their veteran players like Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson, Jaroslav Halak, and Steve Ott and Pat Lafontaine was hired then resigned as President of Hockey Operations.  Instability en masse.  It seems like they are doing what they need to in order to rebuild their team and I hope for Sabres’ fans it doesn’t take too long.

Therrien made a couple of roster changes for the game.  Jarred Tinordi was back in the line-up with Douglas Murray given the night off.  A minor surprise was that Dustin Torkarski would be the starter in nets for Montreal.  It wasn’t because Carey Price wasn’t playing because the organization had already let the public know that he would not be making the trip to Buffalo in an effort to allow the just back from injury goalie be prepared for the game Tuesday.  The surprise was that back-up Peter Budaj would not be starting.  It seemed like a game against Buffalo, a weak team, would be the perfect situation to build up his confidence again after struggling while in relief for an injured Price.  But as it has been most of the season, anytime you question a hunch made by coach Michel Therrien it turns out he gambled correctly.

Starting for Buffalo was Jhonas Enroth, who has won 3 out of 4 career games against Montreal.  It cannot be easy for any goalie in Buffalo now as they are backing up a rather young and inexperienced team.  Buffalo, besides the inexperience, has a few players out with injuries like Tyler Myers, Michal Neuvirth, Patrick Kaleta and Chris Stewart. A paper thin roster which favoured the Habs.

As has been the case for Montreal over the past couple of games, they got off to a good start.  Enroth was busy.  Unlike the other games they were, however, able to score.  At the end of the 1st Montreal had a 2-0 lead courtesy of late goals by Dale Wiese (his first in a Montreal uniform, but 4th of the season) and Brendan Gallagher.

The rest of the game was rather uneventful.  Not only because that was all the scoring, but because neither side generated much in the way of quality scoring chances.  Of note was that Enroth had to leave the game at the 16:09 mark of the 2nd period having Gallagher, who was pushed by defenceman Jamie McBain, collide heavily with him.  He seemed to have injured his right leg and could not continue.  Nathan Lieuwen, a giant goalie at 6’5”, came in for his first NHL game.  He did well, not allowing a goal in the almost 22 minutes he played.

Lieuwen’s debut was overshadowed by the shutout by Tokarski.  It was his first career shutout.  Tokarski has played well in the two games he has started from Montreal.  He is not the biggest goalie at 5’11”, but is technically sound and a battler.  I think these few games he has played recently have given the organization something to think about when it comes to the battle to be Price’s back-up next season.

This weekend brought the Canadiens 4 important points.  It moved them back into 3rd place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Maple Leafs and Lightning.  With 13 games left in the season they are in a good position (7 points ahead of 9th placed Washington) to make the playoffs.

The next game for Montreal is Tuesday night at the Bell Centre against the Patrick Roy-led Colorado Avalanche.  With Roy coming to town there is sure to be a circus-like atmosphere around the game.  Against a team like the Avalanche (2nd in the Central Division behind St. Louis) Montreal has to be more opportunistic on offence and their power play has to make the opposition pay more often.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Wes McCauley and Kevin Pollock

Linesmen – Mark Shewchyk and David Brisebois

-Goals:  1st Period:

14:41:  Montreal – Dale Weise assisted by David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk

16:07:  Montreal – Brendan Gallagher assisted by Tomas Plekanec and Alexei Emelin

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 32

Buffalo – 29

-3 Stars:  1)  Tomas Plekanec – Montreal

2)  Brendan Gallagher – Montreal

3)  P.K. Subban – Montreal

-Attendance:  19,070

-Final Score:  Montreal – 2

Buffalo – 0

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