The Buffalo Sabres gave the Canadiens a scare Saturday night as they usually do when they play at the Bell Centre, but they managed to hang on for a 3-2 win to complete a string of seven games in eleven nights with a 6-0-1 record. The game was ultimately decided on one Tomas Plekanec shift late in the second period. Plekanec scored to break a 1-1 and then 23 seconds later assisted on what turned out to be the game winning goal 23 seconds later. Brandon Prust scored the game’s first goal and added an assist. Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons scored for Buffalo. Shots on goal were 25-19 in favour of the Sabres. The three stars were Prust, Plekanec and Travis Moen.
Adding It Up –
On a Roll - That’s five consecutive wins for the Canadiens. Six consecutive wins aty home. Over the last ten games they are 9-0-1 and 11-1-2 over the last 14. Exactly four weeks ago they were in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They are now tied for first with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No Passion – After an emotionally-charged win over the Boston Bruins Thursday the Canadiens were dead flat starting the game. All of the so-called ‘good players’ played poorly against the NHL’s worst team. It made for a horrible twenty minutes of hockey that producted a total of nine shots on goal and only three scoring chances, all by the Canadiens but also all of which counted as missed shots.
The Decision – Not everyone was asleep. As home team coach, Michel Therrien gets to see the visiting lineup before he posts his own. Seeing the absence of John Scott from the Buffalo lineup he made George Parros a healthy scratch and put Ryan White in the lineup.
The Coach Looks Good – While their teammates looked like they were off on another planet, the White-Brandon Prust-Travis Moen line was flying. While the so-called offensive lines were for the most part struggling in their own end, White and company played in the Buffalo end.
The Payoff – Opening seconds of the second period, Moen dropped back to the Buffalo blueline, interecepted the clear and fed White who fed it back to Prust for the opening goal of the game.
Part of the Problem – Among those having difficultygetting things together were members of the Plekanec line, which included Gionta and on this night the struggling Alex Galchenyuk. They found themselves stuck in their own end for the third time in the game when Tyler Ennis tied the game at 8:35 of the second.
On the Spot – Another great shift from the Ryan White line with less than 3 minutes left in the period. White headed for the bench and Plekanec got on the ice just in time to lean into a pass from Brandon Prust and it’s 2-1. Moen with an assist as well, his second of the game.
Still Out There – Moen and Prust left the ice and the rest of the Plekanec line came out. And 23 seconds later it was Plekanec to Markov to a wide open Galchenyuk for what proved to be the game winner. The Habs had three goals on only 15 shots. Not that it was easy. Buffalo outshot the Canadiens 8-4 in the third period and scored to make it a one goal game.
When It Counted – After a first half of the game that rose from poor to mediocre, the Canadiens had it better in the final twenty minutes. They did give up a goal but Girgensons, but he produced an extraordinary effort to get past Subban to score it. And when Subban got a penalty for holding the stick at 11:08, they seemed to put things together. From the start of the penalty through the final Buffalo managed only two shots on goal.
Also Worth Mentioning - …..Sometimes a player needs a little nudge. Alex Galchenyuk had two goals his last eight games and his ice time had been reduced below ten minutes the last two games. Therrien moved him to the Plekanec line where he knew Galchenyuk would be getting some good looks. He got it and made no mistake for the game winner. …….Tomas Plekanec, despite a goal and assist, did not have his best night. Even so, there are ways to contribute. Going into the final 30 seconds of the game, Plekanec was 33% in the faceoff circle. Against Steve Ott, the Canadiens controlled the puck off three straight faceoffs in their own end, Plekanec winning the last two cleanly. Game over. ……Carey Price gave up only two goals again. That’s ten straight games at two goals or fewer. Among goaltenders with 20 or more starts, his .938 save percentage is first in the league. …..Long win streaks require as much luck as good management. The Canadiens could have lost any of the four games over the last six nights; two against an obviously inferior New Jersey team, the Boston game and it was touch-and-go against Buffalo as well. But, they didn’t. And now they’re in first place. Hard to argue that.
Moving On - With three days between games the Canadiens will hardly know what to do with themselves. Day off tomorrow. Practice Monday and Tuesday they’ll play the LA Kings. Then it’s on the road to Philadelphia and the Islanders Thursday and Saturday.