The Habs had little time to recover from their opening night loss as they were back in action 24 hours later, this time facing the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night. That’s right, a regular season contest against a non-Canadian NHL team, what a time to be alive! Coach Ducharme opted for the same lineup as the previous night in Toronto, a decision I question from a strategic standpoint, never mind that it was a strange decision considering that it was not a good night for the entire bottom six. The only change was to start Samuel Montembeault. The Habs must have thought that this game was going to be easy because they lacked conviction all night long and followed up an interesting 2-1 loss to a good team by getting destroyed 5-1 by the Sabres.
The game started with the Sabres taking the play to the Habs forcing Montembeault to make three saves early. The Canadiens were completely disorganized, and the few times that they were able to control the puck, they tried to complete a low-percentage play and were pushed back by the Sabres. The only thing that kept this thing close early is that Buffalo, after a solid start, joined Montreal in becoming cute and discombobulated instead of continuing to drive the Habs into the ground. Five minutes into the period, Cedric Paquette continued his terrible start by taking a penalty. The Sabres opened the scoring a minute later as Kyle Okposo fired home a shot that Montembeault should have stopped.
The second half of the period started with the Sabres taking a penalty that allowed the Habs to get into the offensive zone. The Christian Dvorak line looked good, but then the unit with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield came on the ice and tried junior level plays that were easily stopped. The power play was followed with another long segment of low-event hockey as neither team was able to string together consecutive passes.
With 2:25 to play in the period, Alexander Romanov won a battle in the defensive zone but saw his effort spoiled by a soft play by Jonathan Drouin that did not get the puck out of the zone. This was compounded when Brett Kulak, who followed up being the Habs defender on Wednesday with being their worst in this one, failed to adequately cover his player in front of the net. His player (Zemgus Girgensons) tipped home a puck to make it 2-0. The period ended with the Habs killing a penalty after Chris Wideman was called for hooking.
The second period started with Ducharme making a change in his forward lines as Caufield joined Jake Evans and Brendan Gallagher on the team’s third line as Joel Armia moved to the fourth with Paquette and Artturi Lehkonen, which meant Mathieu Perreault joined Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli on the team’s top unit.
Three minutes into the period, the Habs got another power play opportunity, but it meant little as the Habs simply weren’t winning any puck battles and so they couldn’t even get set up in the offensive zone. Luckily for them, they got some help as Cody Eakin tripped Dvorak which gave the Habs 26 seconds of 5-on-3. The only chance that was created was another Petry point shot. Why this is even considered without Shea Weber’s bomb is absolutely mind-numbing.
At the end of the segment, Gallagher showed exactly why this team is going to sorely miss Corey Perry this season. Twice he tried the bumper play from next to the net. The second time, three Buffalo players were already covering that play, but Gallagher went there anyway because that’s what they’ve practiced. For anyone who watched last season knows that Perry would have read the situation to take it to the net himself since they had completely vacated that spot on the ice.
With 10:27 to play, a good forecheck by Perreault gave the Habs some offensive time which finally ended with Armia finding Wideman who had snuck into the back-door spot and was wide open to put home a one-timer to make it 2-1.
All of the good vibes from the goal were quickly killed with a Drouin hooking penalty which was then followed by a too many men penalty. During the second penalty, Chiarot played like he thought it was still the playoffs and it was Buffalo’s turn at playing 5-on-3. With the first penalty expired, the Sabres regained their two-goal lead when Victor Olofsson beat Montembeault on yet another shot that the netminder should have stopped.
Two minutes later, any hopes of a fun third period were dashed when Drouin got cute in the offensive zone and then decided not to back check. This was once again compounded as the three-on-two became on one when Kulak decided to check air. Montembeault gave up a big juicy rebound to Anders Bjork and just like that, it was 4-1 for Buffalo against a Habs team playing a second game in two nights with not a single fresh player being inserted into the lineup. The Canadiens got a power play to end the period but continued to look completely lost on special teams.
Montreal came out taking chances which opened some scoring chances for Buffalo until Chiarot took yet another penalty for the Habs, this time for tripping. This time, the Sabres scored when Tage Thompson scored on another juicy rebound that saw both Montembeault move way too slowly, but also the entire penalty killing unit showing way too much respect to the Buffalo Sabres and allowed them to pass the puck for way too long without challenging them.
With the score being 5-1, both teams were content to go through the motions and the game became an exercise in killing time. If this type of effort is what we can look forward to, it might be a very long season.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Christian Dvorak
No problem to the start of the season for the newcomer who must be frustrated and thinking to himself that he really thought he had left this type of negativity behind when he was traded out of the desert. Nothing to show on the board for Dvorak, but Ducharme has been using him to win faceoffs; he went 10/18 on that front in this one.
Stats: -2, 20:02 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Chris Wideman
I am not a big fan of a defenceman who can’t play a regular shift but is waiting for his turn on the power play. In my opinion, it would make so much more sense to play Romanov on the second power play unit and let the kid progress. Worst-case scenario, you can say you gave a kid a chance and it didn’t pan out. What does this Wideman experiment do for the medium to long term for the team? Having said all of that, Wideman made a great Markov-like back-door sneak that will keep me off his case for now. Let’s see a bit more of him and allow him to catch up after a full KHL season before being too harsh in his regard… I guess.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 15:12 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Mathieu Perreault
Many haven’t liked Perreault’s start to the season, but I’m going to side with the coaching staff who moved him up the lineup as the game wore on. I think he was mostly a victim of playing shorthanded in Toronto and to start this game as Paquette does not look like an NHL player. Perreault has been winning board battles and being physical. It’s not overly positive, but when compared to many others including top of the roster players who are busy trying to make cute no-look passes to no one, it’s at least a start.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 10:59 T.O.I.