The Habs were back on the ice for a Wednesday night contest against the Buffalo Sabres, looking for their fourth straight victory. The Sabres represented an interesting challenge as they were the last team to beat the Habs and the first team to face the Martin St. Louis’ Habs for a second time. The Habs opted to keep intact their winning lineup which was not surprising. This meant that Samuel Montembeault would be facing Craig Anderson. Montembeault was sharp when he needed to be and the Habs supported him with some offence as they were the better team all night long, skating away with a 4-0 win and an impressive four-game winning streak.
The night started off with Montembeault making a big save but it was all he needed to do for the entire first period. The Habs fired back as Cole Caufield and Brendan Gallagher both missed glorious chances.
Three minutes into the contest, Mattias Samuelsson delivered a big hit on Byron. The hit was late and after the whistle and ended Byron’s night. Byron was visibly furious as he left the ice.
Soon after, Josh Anderson came up big once again as Mike Hoffman (who delivered a beauty pass to Gallagher on his opening chance) delivered yet another beautiful pass, this time to Laurent Dauphin who couldn’t get it to go in.
The Canadiens finally solved Anderson as the game’s best line by a wide margin got on the board. Rasmus Dahlin refused to take a hit from Anderson. This immediately led to a puck in the Buffalo slot. The puck was bouncing around and while everyone covered Caufield and Anderson on the left, the puck found itself on the right where Nick Suzuki pounced on the loose puck to open the scoring.
Buffalo spent much of the opening period looking for the big hit which appeared dangerous but really opened Montreal’s neutral zone game. The Sabres took a tripping call with 8:30 to play in the period. The Habs man advantage controlled the play despite never threatening the goal. It was still enough to generate momentum, however, as Caufield once again intercepted a pass and deked out everyone on the ice before running out of real estate and giving Anderson a free pass on a good scoring chance.
Alexander Romanov then delivered a big hit in the defensive zone which created a scoring opportunity for Ryan Poehling, but Anderson kept the Sabres within striking distance. In the final moments of the period, Dahlin caught Anderson with a rare hip-check, a manoeuvre that the Habs forward did not appreciate. Overall, the period ended with the shots 11-4 in favour of Montreal which I thought was indicative of the overall pace of the period.
The second period started with a brutal giveaway by Romanov (who did not have a great game) which led to three Sabres scoring chances only to see Montembeault come up huge and keep his team in the driver’s seat. Dauphin then came close, but Anderson showed himself equally up to the task.
Dahlin’s selfish play once again reared its ugly head. He was caught with a high stick from Caufield. The infraction was called, but Dahlin still went after Gallagher after the whistle and negated his team’s power play. With the teams at 4-on-4, two Sabres over-skated the puck which allowed Suzuki to walk in on a breakaway. He was hooked on the sequence which resulted in a penalty shot. Suzuki went wide and then outwaited Anderson with a slick move to score and extend the lead.
Buffalo finally settled down as the second half of the game got going and were immediately rewarded for it as Gallagher was called for hooking. However, the Sabres never came close to the Habs zone as Suzuki put on a clinic and created two grade-A scoring chances while on the penalty kill.
When Gallagher exited the box, he was immediately greeted with a face full of Casey Fitzgerald gloves and decided to drop his own mitts and fight. With four minutes to play in the period, Anderson went down to block a shot and he did just that. Unfortunately, he did so with his face which drew concern from both teams. Anderson left the game and did not return.
Only behind by two goals, the Sabres came out in force to start the third as they were strong on the puck and forced the Habs to back off for the opening minute. 1:18 in, Suzuki was gifted an offensive faceoff by an errant pass by a Buffalo defender. The result was that he won the draw, Caufield jumped on the loose puck, and immediately fired home a rocket that Anderson didn’t even react to before it was in the back of the net.
That third goal really stumped the Sabres’ opening minute momentum. They would gain the puck, work for a bit of momentum, and then Suzuki-Caufield-Hoffman would get on the ice and the entire shift would be spent in the Buffalo zone. The Dauphin line would often generate a bit of offence coming in behind the Suzuki line as Gallagher missed a few more golden chances, his last one being a wide-open net that caused him to look up to the rafters in disbelief.
Suzuki kicked off the final half-period with another unreal pass that forced Anderson to make another huge stop on Rem Pitlick. Romanov was then sent to the box for holding with 5:43 to play. Montreal didn’t look as dominant on this kill, but the Sabres still could not solve Montembeault.
Suzuki once again stretched out the opposing defenders after their man advantage to stop the Sabres from getting too much momentum. With two minutes left and the Anderson on the bench for the extra attacker, Pitlick won a puck battle in the defensive zone and Jake Evans took advantage to gain the red line before firing home the final nail in the coffin of the Sabres and Samuel Montembeault’s first career shutout.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
When a goaltender earns his first career shutout and still doesn’t earn first star honours, it tells who the best player on the ice was for the entire 60 minutes. Suzuki was on another level on this night and appeared to be creating offensive chances on every shift. He skates away with three points but it could have very easily been much more considering how slow this game looked for him.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3, 3 shots, 20:48 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
I was very hard with regards to Montembeault when he first arrived in Montreal. With sufficient playing time and a team not hanging him out to dry 40/60 minutes per night, he’s looked like a capable NHL-calibre netminder. His rebound control has improved immensely as the season has moved along, and while he still gets lost in his crease from time to time, one can’t help but cheer on someone like Montembeault who battles for each puck that comes close to his crease. I think this shutout is a nice reward for a young man who has had an incredibly difficult learning curve in an even more difficult season for the Habs. His future may not be in Montreal, but he may well carve himself a career as an NHL backup thanks to this opportunity and his own will to battle to climb that learning curve and battle through adversity.
Stats: 32 shots, 32 saves, 1.00 save %, 0.00 G.A.A., 60:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
There isn’t much that can be said about Caufield that hasn’t already been said in the last week. So, I’ll take the opportunity to vent a bit. I’m happy Caufield is playing more like last season and less like October. I’m happy he’s tearing it up and I hope to never see him away from that top-line winger spot ever again. Having said that, I feel like the Ducharme hate on this particular matter needs to lessen by a few degrees. Caufield is young and, much like Poehling a few seasons back, likely believed much of the hype surrounding himself after last year’s playoffs. He came to camp not ready to win puck battles and that’s what cost him his top-line role under Ducharme. That Ducharme never understood that Caufield remained his most skilled winger and didn’t replace him with Suzuki once Caufield got in game shape is entirely on Ducharme and it likely cost him his job in the end, but far too much blame is being placed 100% on Ducharme for how that whole thing went down. Caufield will be better long-term for having overcome said adversity, but he had his role to play in that situation. End rant.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 5 shots, 1 hit, 17:08 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Laurent Dauphin
Remember when Ducharme (Why am I defending a coach I disliked for a second time tonight?!) kept playing Dauphin and the fan base mocked him for it? St. Louis comes in and Dauphin earns that same trust, plays on a line with Hoffman and Gallagher where he is the defensive conscience of the line, and plays his heart out game after game, creating scoring chances, and barely missing on a handful of his own chances. Now I certainly don’t want Dauphin to be the team’s 2C in the long term, but would anyone really be upset if he ended up as the permanent 4C over the course of the rebuild? I think he’s earned as much, no?
Stats: 4 shots, 1 hit, 18:21 T.O.I.