The Montreal Canadiens continue their four game road trip Friday night in Buffalo, NY. The Habs currently have a one point lead over the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes, and will need a win over a hurting Sabres team in order to give themselves some breathing room. Montreal also plays Saturday night in Boston before a much needed four-day break where they’ll have time to regroup until next Thursday’s match with the Atlanta Thrashers.
With 16 games left in the season, everyone is well aware of what is in stored for Montreal and the other teams currently locked in a battle for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. If any team with a statistical chance to make the post-season wishes to do so, they’ll have to fight tooth and nail for it. There are no easy wins in the “New NHL” and the Habs will have to be glad that they collected as many points as they did early on in the season.
This marks the seventh meeting between the two teams this season. The Canadiens not only open the month of March with the Sabres, but will close it out with their final meeting of the season with their division rival on March 31st. The season series is tied in terms of wins, with both sides tallying three wins. The Habs hold an edge in points collected with eight against Buffalo’s seven. With three of the games going to overtime or shootout, Montreal was able to pick up the extra points.
The last time they faced off, Montreal skated to a 4-3 win versus the Sabres on Saturday, January 20th at the Bell Centre. Michael Ryder scored the winner with less than three minutes remaining in the game after the Habs blew a 3-0 lead to let Buffalo tie the game on two goals from Daniel Briere and a single by Derek Roy. Guillaume Latendresse, Saku Koivu, and Francis Bouillon had the early goals for the Canadiens, while goaltender Cristobal Huet was credited with the win. Martin Biron played in net for Buffalo, but the Habs surely won’t see him in a Sabres’ net anytime soon seeing as he was dealt to Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
Montreal is coming off a spiritless performance in which they were blanked by the New York Rangers 4-0. Henrik Lundqvist was in goal for the shutout while former Hab Marcel Hossa sought revenge on his former team and scored two goals. Jaromir Jagr’s first period goal counted as the game winner while Matt Cullen put the final nail in the hatchet with a shorthanded empty net goal with a minute left in regulation. Rookie goalie Halak made his fifth career NHL start and made 23 saves in a losing effort. Sergei Samsonov and Christopher Higgins missed the game with the flu.
Meanwhile, the Sabres did Montreal a favor this past Tuesday when they trounced the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto by a score of 6-1. Even with six regulars out with injury, eight if you count Tim Connolly, Buffalo was capable of proving themselves as one of the top teams in the league. Jochen Hecht had two goals while Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Derek Roy, and Clark MacArthur each chipped in with one. Ryan Miller made 27 saves en route to his 30th win of the season.
Danius Zubrus is expected to make his debut with the Buffalo Sabres Friday night while goaltender Ty Conklin will watch his new team take to the ice from the bench for the second time. Buffalo traded a 2007 first round pick and Jiri Novotny to the Washington Capitals in return for Zubrus and defenseman Timo Helbling. Meanwhile, the Sabres acquired Conklin from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fifth round draft pick after moving Biron to the Flyers.
With the trade deadline come and gone, there are only a couple of minor changes to take note of. Apart from Rivet being shipped to San Jose for a first round pick and 22-year-old defenseman Josh Gorges, the Habs have more or less said good-bye to Aaron Downey and have welcomed goaltender Michael Leighton to the fray.
When Downey successfully cleared waivers, he was demoted to the AHL. However, the 32-year-old never played a game with the Hamilton Bulldogs, as it was announced today that he will be on loan to the AHL’s Providence Bruins. In turn, the Bulldogs have been loaned goaltender Philippe Sauvé to serve while goaltender Yann Danis recovers from a neck injury.
Leighton is a large goaltender, standing at 6’3 and 186lbs. It is still uncertain as to whether or not the goalie, who the Habs received via Philadelphia’s waivers, will have an opportunity to start for the Canadiens before the end of the season. However, with David Aebischer and Jaroslav Halak’s play not up to par with Coach Guy Carbonneau’s expectations, don’t be surprised if Leighton does get a call between the pipes.