With 9 games left in the regular season it is becoming more and more apparent that the Montreal Canadiens will not be in a playoff spot come early April. In last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, tied on points with the New York Islanders, this season has been undeniably forgettable for the team and its fans. Some would argue that this renders the remainder of the teams games this season pointless. However, the remaining games do matter and there are plenty of reasons why.
To name a few: what can Peter Budaj do if he plays more consistently? If they give Aaron Palushaj more playing time what kind of numbers will he put up? At the same time a lot of players will be looking to put up milestones. Can Erik Cole is looking to get to the 30 goal mark while Max Pacioretty has a shot at 35. Meanwhile, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, and Rene Bourque are all creeping towards the 20 goal mark. There are plenty of other reasons to watch and for the final 9 Canadiens games to be played but going into any more detail is pointless because that is not the point of this article.
The point of this article is to look at one of those 9 games, specifically the one to be played Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. It is a game between two teams in very different places in the current NHL standings. On one hand the Canadiens have very little to play for now other than pride and personal statistics. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres are one spot out the playoffs and tied for points with the Washington Capitals who hold that 8th spot. With this in mind the Sabres certainly have a lot more to play for than the Canadiens, and therefore they would be considered the favourites in this game. However, the last time these two teams met, which was only a week ago, it was the Canadiens who looked more competitive. It was the Canadiens who desperately fought for the tiyng goal in the game and ended up getting it off the stick of Desharnais. The Habs would end up losing the game in overtime but it was still a bit of a surprise that the team who has nothing to play for in theory tried so hard to tie up the game.
In terms of statistics it is clearly the Sabres who have the advantage, which is why they are in a playoff position while the Canadiens are left thinking of better times, as they often are in recent years. A huge part of the fact that the Sabres are in the playoffs this year is because of there home record. At 18-11-8 it is far superior the Canadiens’ 15-17-4 record on the road. So far this season it has been all Buffalo in these matchups as they have gone 4-0-1, only losing once in that weird shootout game that saw Tomas Kaberle, Chris Campoli, and Scott Gomez all score. This is the final meeting between the two teams this season, and it is bound to be a low scoring affair. Almost all of the games these two teams have played against one another this season have been more defensive battles than anything. Don’t expect any different this time around.
One of the only advantages that the Canadiens have in this one is the fact that they are far more rested than the Sabres. Buffalo scored 7 on the Lightning on Monday and should have plenty of tired legs as they meet the Canadiens, who haven’t played since the shootout loss on Saturday. It is bound to be a low scoring defensive affair, but one that the Sabres should come out on top in.
Keys to a Canadiens victory:
1. Get Physical:
The Buffalo Sabres are not much of a physical team as Ryan Miller learned the hard way.
2. No dumb penalties:
It is a re-occurring theme to see many Canadiens in the box. They need to stop this if they are going to win this game.
3. Take advantage of powerplays
Markov is back and therefore the powerplay has returned with him in theory. If the Canadiens can use it they have a far superior shot at victory.