The Habs kicked off their first real road trip on Thursday as their contest in Buffalo was the first of four in a row away from home. While the Sabres were off to a strong 4-2 start, the Habs wanted to get back to the .500 mark they’ve maintained throughout the start of the season. For the most part, the Habs hung on for dear life in the first half of the game before finding just enough puck luck to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on this night thanks in large part to Samuel Montembeault and the Christian Dvorak forward line.
Speaking of the alignment, coach Martin St. Louis had some experiments up his sleeve on this night as the wingers were shuffled around and six of the eight found themselves on their off-wing. Mike Hoffman joined Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki on the top unit, while Kirby Dach was flanked by Sean Monahan and Jonathan Drouin on a line that was hard to watch on this night due to their soft play and coverage. The best of the night was Dvorak who played with Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson, which left a fourth line of Jake Evans, Rem Pitlick, and Evgeni Dadonov. The blue line remained unchanged.
The first period was a parade to the penalty box as both teams were penalized twice. Both of the Buffalo’s penalties came within the first five minutes, but the Habs’ advantage continued its early-season stink fest and they handed early momentum to the Sabres by completely squandering their chances. In fact, it was Buffalo who got the better chances as they missed a two-on-one with Zemgus Girgensons being stopped. A few moments later, it was Monahan heading to the box. The Sabres looked dangerous and did get a puck by Montembeault only to see it pulled off the goal line.
The period really belonged to the Sabres as they ended the period with a 6-1 advantage in quality shots. However, the only one that counted came off the stick of Gallagher. At the 13:31 mark, Dvorak hustled to beat out an icing call. The play came out to Gallagher at the faceoff dot where he ripped what should have been a routine shot. However, with Dvorak on the doorstep, Eric Comrie opted to kick it out to the far side. Unfortunately for him, his defender was standing there so the rebound bounced off Owen Power and into the net for a 1-0 Habs lead. This woke up the Canadiens who were suddenly skating and climbing back up on the shot clock until Dach was called for hooking with less than two minutes to play.
Buffalo started the second strong as they capitalized on their short carryover power play. It was a broken play where Jack Quinn barely kept it onside before it was flipped in the zone where Guhle tried to play the puck, and had it bounce over his stick to Skinner who skated in and roofed a shot over Montembeault’s glove.
The goal gave the Sabres wings as they were all over Montreal for most of the first ten minutes of the period. This domination was aided by a few penalties as Hoffman and Wideman both took penalties that the Habs managed to kill.
The Sabres were back in full control to start the third period until they took a penalty three minutes in. The advantage wasn’t really dangerous, but it did allow the Habs to gain the offensive zone and take momentum away as they controlled the moments that followed the power play.
With 13:09 to play and the Habs buzzing, Savard showed great patience at the top of the zone which allowed Guhle to get in a shooting position at the face-off dot. Savard fed it to his partner and Guhle released a precise one-timer for a beautiful first NHL goal for the young blueliner. The goal energized the Canadiens for a short while as they continued to control play in the offensive zone.
As the final ten minutes got underway, Buffalo started pushing to tie the game as play found its way to Montreal’s zone where Montembeault had to make a few excellent stops with his team scrambling in their defensive zone. With 7:06 to play, more soft coverage, this time by Drouin, gave Dylan Cozens all the room he needed to put a puck through three bodies to beat Montembeault and tie the game. The play really opened after the goal as both teams committed bad defensive mistakes forcing both netminders to stand tall.
With just under four minutes to play, the Dvorak line was once again buzzing as all members of the line got looks at the net from in close. With Comrie sprawling, it was Power who swatted a puck out of midair to get it out of the crease. At the top of the zone, it was Savard with another savvy pass that allowed Anderson a one-timer. Unlike Guhle, Anderson whiffed on his shot as the puck fluttered to the net and beat Comrie. The goal was originally credited to Gallagher but was later changed to Anderson. The Habs then clogged up the middle of the ice for three minutes and skated away with a 3-2 victory.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Samuel Montembeault – Remember when goaltending was supposed to be an issue in Montreal this season? For the better part of the first half of this game, the Habs didn’t deserve this win and likely should have been buried. Instead, he provided strong saves all night long. It’s never particularly pretty for him, but it was effective on this night.
Stats: 43 saves, 45 shots, 2.00 GAA, .956 save %
2nd Star – Josh Anderson – He only delivers this type of performance every 6-8 games, but man is he fun to watch when he uses his body to protect pucks and drive to the net. The Dvorak line was easily the best on the night for the Habs, and it’s mostly because Anderson forced the opposition to back off and provided space for his linemates all night long.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 3 shots, 3 hits, 13:42 TOI
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher – This was a game of Gallagher doing Gallagher things. He was effective without the puck, completed strong forechecks, and scored an ugly goal.
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 6 shots, 13:41 TOI
Honourable Mention – David Savard – Usually more effective in his own zone, Savard had himself a night at the other end as his two passes allowed the Habs to score in the third. As one of the few Canadiens who is never afraid to engage physically, it was nice to see him play more like he did to close out last season in this contest.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 4 blocks, 22:49 TOI