Montreal Canadiens (36-30-7) at Buffalo Sabres (39-22-10) – Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
After 2 consecutive lacklustre losses to divisional rivals, the Montreal Canadiens will have to do better as they visit the Northeast division leading Buffalo Sabres. The Canadiens only have 9 games left in the regular season, and their playoff position is far from secure. The Habs currently sit in 7th in the Eastern Conference, but both the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers are doing their best to overthrow them. This is the 5th time that Buffalo and Montreal have faced each other this season, and the Sabres hold a significant edge, having won 3 of the 4 games. Over that span, Buffalo has outscored Montreal 12-7, shutting them out once, winning the last 3 games, and obtaining at least a point in each game. Buffalo has won their last 3 games, and are 6-3-1 over their last 10 games; Montreal is 7-2-1 over the same span of games.
With back-to-back games this week, it is thought that Carey Price (13-19-4, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV%) might see his first start since being pulled in Anaheim on March 7th. Nevertheless, Jacques Martin has yet to disclose who his starter will be, and Jaroslav Halak (23-11-3, 2.45 GAA, .923 SV%) may see his 7th straight start. US Olympian and tournament MVP, Ryan Miller (36-15-8, 2.20 GAA, .929 SV%) is probable to start in the Sabres’ crease. Miller’s goal against average is good for 1st in the NHL while his save percentage is second only to Boston’s Tuukka Rask. Price is 5-4-2 all-time against the Sabres while Halak is 2-2-0. Miller boasts 16-5-5 career stats versus the Habs with his only shutout coming against them the last time the two teams played each other.
Despite mustering only 1 point in the last 4 games, Tomas Plekanec remains the Canadiens’ leading scorer with 65 points (21G, 44A) through 73 games. His totals should be aided by the return of his linemate Mike Cammalleri (26G, 22A), who is playing for the first time since suffering an MCL injury. This should take some pressure off of the trio of Scott Gomez (12G, 41A) and Brian Gionta (23G, 16A) and Benoit Pouliot (16G, 10A), who round out the Canadien scoring leaders. The Sabres are led by Tim Connolly (16G, 48A), Derek Roy (19G, 36A), Jason Pominville (21G, 32A) and Thomas Vanek (23G, 24A).
Buffalo fares better than Montreal statistically, proving superior with goals per game (2.78 vs. 2.59) as well as goals allowed per game (2.45 vs. 2.70). Inexplicably, Montreal retains the 2nd best powerplay in the league (22.8%) despite sputtering since the Olympic break and going 1-for-12 over the last 2 games. Its efficiency should be greatly aided by the return of Cammalleri and MA Bergeron tonight. Buffalo’s powerplay unit ranks poorly with a 16.9% conversion rate. Montreal’s penalty-killing has been struggling over the past 2 games, and their 82.9% efficiency pales in comparison to Buffalo’s 86.0% rate. Montreal has gone 2-for-13 against the Sabres, while Buffalo has converted 2 of 16 powerplay opportunities this season against the Habs.
Travis Moen will miss tonight’s contest after taking a skate to the forehead on Monday night. Early reports disclose that there although there is no permanent damage, the cut required up to 50 stitches to close. Paul Mara (shoulder) is expected to miss the remainder of the season after requiring surgery. Raffi Torres (upper body) is the only questionable Sabre for tonight’s game.
The game can be seen on RDS, TSN and MSG-B. Game-time is 7:30pm EST.