Janne Niinimaa who was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens less than a month ago is already taking a leadership role with the club as yesterday afternoon he guaranteed a Canadiens win over the visiting Sabres. The Sabres are playing well right now,” Niinimaa told reporters at Sunday’s practice. “But they are going to lose a game, and it’s going to be on Monday.”
Buffalo arrives in Montreal as the NHL’s last undefeated team with an 8-0 record; the Sabres also have the leagues top offence which has produced 42 goals. Last season Buffalo had the 5th best offence in the league but did not have a single player ranked in the top 40 point producers in the league. This season is a different story as Maxim Afinogenov is leading the league with 14 points and his team-mates Chris Drury and Thomas Vanek are not too far behind with 12 points each and in a tie for 6th overall in the NHL.
The Canadiens offence has been no slouch though this season as they rank 4th overall in the NHL’s goals per game category averaging over 3.5 goals per game. Saku Koivu and Sheldon Souray are tied for the team lead in points with 9. Souray has 5 goals all of which have come on the power play via his cannon of a slap shot.
The Canadiens lost their opening game of the season in Buffalo after squandering a two goal lead in the final five minutes. The Canadiens eventually were beaten in a shootout on the back of goals from Afinogenov and Vanek.
The Canadiens head into tonight’s game with both the leagues 2nd best power play and penalty kill and will need both to have excellent performances to be successful against the Sabres. The most impressive stat is the Canadiens home power play which is currently running at 43.8% which leads the league.
Ryan Miller will be in goal for the Sabres, Miller is 6-0 with a .908 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average. Miller is 5-0 life time against the Canadiens. Cristobal Huet is believed to get the start for the Canadiens. Huet has been unimpressive so far this season but is yet to lose a game in regulation.
The Sabres are only nursing a single injury as Tim Connolly is still suffering from post concussion syndrome. Connolly sustained the concussion in the second round of last year’s playoffs. The Canadiens have 3 players on the shelf, forward Aaron Downey who is recovering from a hit by Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr. Defenseman Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon are both recuperating from leg injuries. Radek Bonk left practice early with back spasms yesterday but since no phone calls were made to Hamilton you can expect him to be in the line-up.
Should the Canadiens win tonight they would pull back to a .500 record all time against the Sabres. Their current record is 89-90-31-4.
Buffalo beat the Canadiens 3 times out of 4 last year in Montreal.
Last year Afinogenov Connolly and Brian Campbell each averaged over a point a game against the Canadiens.