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After getting shellacked in Ottawa, the Habs bounced back in the best way possible, crushing division rival Buffalo 6-1 on Saturday afternoon. There were many firsts of the season for Montreal in this one as a pair of players picked up their first goals, three picked up their first assist, and one - P.K. Subban - made his season debut after signing earlier in the week.
The first period was all Montreal, the Sabres rarely had control in the Habs' zone. Ryan Miller was at the top of his game though and had it not been for a Rene Bourque tap-in with eight seconds left in the frame, the game would have been scoreless despite Montreal outshooting Buffalo 15-1. Instead, the home team took a 1-0 lead into the second and it didn't take long for the lead to double as Brendan Gallagher, who was trying to pass to fellow rookie Alex Galchenyuk on a 2-on-1, banked the pass off a Buffalo defender past Miller.
It was the midway point of the period where the turning point occurred. Shortly after killing off a Buffalo powerplay, David Desharnais picked up his first goal of the season and then just 26 seconds later, a Galchenyuk dangle sprung Lars Eller on a clear path to the net; he beat Miller to make it 4-0, deflating the Sabres' sails. Like Desharnais, that was his first goal of the year while Tomas Kaberle picked up his first helper on that tally as well.
Bourque picked up his second of the game early in the third frame, tapping home a pass from Tomas Plekanec past Jhonas Enroth who replaced Miller to start the period. Less than two minutes later, on a Montreal powerplay, Thomas Vanek took advantage of a rare mistake and beat Price on a breakaway to spoil Carey Price's shutout bid. The officials decided to take over the next section of the game, calling four penalties in less than two minutes which resulted in some 3-on-3 play, something we don't see very often. Desharnais ended the scoring with his second of the game with a powerplay goal, one assisted by Subban in his first game of the year.
Price made 31 saves in the win (17 of which came in the third) while Miller allowed four goals on 21 shots in the loss. (Enroth made nine saves on eleven shots in his period of work, several of which were high quality ones.) Montreal was 2/8 with the man advantage while Buffalo was 0/6.
HW 3 Stars of the Afternoon
1st Star: Rene Bourque - There's no denying that with Bourque's combination of speed and his hands that he can dominate a game. Saturday was a strong example of that as he drove the net with a purpose all afternoon long and picked up a couple of goals doing just that. He also hit the net with more times than not which is an improvement compared to early in the year.
Stats: 2 goals, even rating, 5 shots, 17:45 TOI
2nd Star: Lars Eller - With Max Pacioretty looking like he will be able to return a lot sooner than expected, Eller needed to have a statement game to help his chances of keeping a spot in the lineup. This was a good statement game as he was strong with the puck, engaged along the boards, and put his offensive skills on full display. If he has more games like that, someone else will be yielding their spot to Pacioretty when he returns.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2 rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 2 hits, 5/8 faceoffs (63%), 17:59 TOI
3rd Star: David Desharnais - For the first six games of the year, we weren't seeing the same Desharnais from last year (aside from the inconsistencies at the faceoff dot). On Saturday, we saw the 'old' Desharnais, one that was aggressive on the forecheck and making the right decisions with the puck to lead to a pair of goals and some other scoring chances. He probably deserves a higher ranking than this but I dropped him here as both of his penalties (weak ones at that) negated Montreal powerplays.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 4 PIMS, 4 shots, 1 takeaway, 8/17 faceoffs (47%), 18:07 TOI
Honourable Mention: Alex Galchenyuk - He shouldn't have been the first star (I'll avoid getting into another rant about the idiocy of fan voting though) but he took full advantage of the extra ice time (with Eller on the wing, only three centres dressed so they were double-shifted at times). Not only did he have a pair of quality assists but he also had several high quality scoring chances as well while being strong on the draw as well.
Stats: 2 assists, 2 rating, 3 shots, 9/11 faceoffs (82%)
Stats of the Afternoon: Raphael Diaz was the only Hab to finish the game with a minus rating. Galchenyuk's TOI was a career high; Tomas Kaberle, dressed as the seventh defenceman, played just 7:28, his lowest TOI since January 6, 2004.
The Hamilton Bulldogs were also in action on Saturday. Goals by Zack Stortini and Gabriel Dumont gave the Baby Habs an early 2-0 lead but they were unable to hold on as they fell 4-2 to the Toronto Marlies.
- NHL Statsheet