The Habs kicked off a back-to-back stretch on Tuesday night as they hosted Buffalo. They got off to about the worst start possible and never could recover as they fell 7-2.
Martin St. Louis made a trio of lineup changes for this one compared to Saturday’s comeback win over Philadelphia. Joel Armia returned up front, taking the place of Mike Hoffman who was injured against the Flyers. Meanwhile, the defensive rotation has begun as Jordan Harris and Chris Wideman formed the third pairing, taking the place of Saturday’s third pairing of Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Dadonov – Monahan – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Armia
Guhle – Savard
Matheson – Edmundson
Harris – Wideman
This game started the same way Saturday’s did with the Mike Matheson pairing on to start the game and getting scored on as Tage Thompson found a trailing Rasmus Dahlin whose shot went off Joel Edmundson and in just 35 seconds into the game.
Things got worse quickly from there. On the next shift, Dylan Cozens tried to stuff one past Jake Allen. He didn’t put it in but the puck went cross-crease. Allen didn’t spot it before J.J. Peterka was able to and the winger stuffed it in, giving Buffalo a 2-0 lead just 52 seconds into the game.
It got even worse. Michael Pezzetta decided that he’d try to get some momentum going. That was a good idea in theory. The extension was lacking as he boarded Rasmus Asplund for a beyond-obvious penalty, sending the Sabres to the power play. Wideman and Tyson Jost fought after the play, a decision that didn’t end particularly well for Wideman.
With how things were going to this point, you can guess what happened next. Alex Tuch received a pass just above the faceoff circle from Dahlin at the point. He fired through a David Savard screen, beating Allen. 3-0 and the game was just 2:13 old.
The top line hopped back on the ice and got the momentum going in the other direction. Cole Caufield took a quick pass from Kaiden Guhle and his shot from close to the blueline was able to elude Craig Anderson to get the Habs on the board. This, too, came before the three-minute mark.
Montreal got a good opportunity to cut the deficit in half a minute later as Mattias Samuelsson, the $30 million defender that’s still looking for his first career NHL goal, interfered on Josh Anderson in the neutral zone, sending the home side to the power play. The Habs had four shots with the advantage and a couple of good looks but couldn’t capitalize.
Three minutes later, they got another opportunity with the man advantage when Thompson held Nick Suzuki’s stick. They had three shots on this one but it wasn’t as strong and it was an opportunity squandered. It was the same three minutes after that as they couldn’t capitalize on Ilya Lyubushkin’s elbow on Jake Evans.
Despite all the negativity with the power play, the Habs were the better team for long stretches of the period. Unfortunately, clawing back from a three-goal deficit barely three shifts into the game is a tall task and Anderson stood tall in goal after the Caufield tally. Shots on goal in the opening frame were 15-9 for Montreal.
Buffalo came out strong to start the second, pinning the Habs in for the first two shifts of the period. This time, at least, they didn’t score.
A little before the five-minute mark, Evans was gifted a chance in the slot off an errant pass from Tuch. However, his offensive struggles continued as he waited too long to shoot, allowing for the defender to block the shot.
A minute later, Dahlin was called for holding the stick on David Savard, giving the Habs another opportunity with the man advantage. The second unit had some good pressure and moved the puck well but they didn’t score.
Then it wasn’t Buffalo’s turn with the power play a minute and a half later as Guhle was called for interference on Cozens. Guhle’s penalty box time was doubled as he and Peterka each received roughing minors after the whistle. Victor Olofsson hit the post on a one-timer midway through the advantage but after getting scored on quickly the first time, the penalty kill did well this time around.
But as soon as it ended, things went south again. Thompson got around Matheson and collected the loose puck, creating a mini two-on-one. He sent a quick pass to Jeff Skinner and the veteran lifted it past Allen to restore Buffalo’s three-goal cushion.
Once again, that advantage was short-lived. Less than two minutes later, Evgenii Dadonov made a good play to set up Sean Monahan in the neutral zone, allowing him to attack one on one. His initial shot was stopped but he quickly pounced on the rebound and beat Anderson five-hole to make it 4-2.
Evans and Skinner roughed things up after a faceoff with a little over five minutes left, creating a four-on-four situation. That didn’t last long as Dahlin held Guhle, giving the Habs a lengthy four-on-three advantage. They proceeded to pass the puck around but Buffalo was aggressive on covering Caufield and the Canadiens were content to keep passing to try to find him. The end result was another squandered opportunity, sending them to the room with the same deficit they had after 20 minutes. Shots on goal in the period were 14-8 for the Sabres.
Buffalo got an early power play in the third when Edmundson went off for interference on Jack Quinn just over a minute in. They had a lot of zone time but couldn’t score.
However, similar to the second period, they scored soon after. Tuch skated behind the net, attempting a wraparound on his backhand. The puck instead went cross-crease to Henri Jokiharju who roofed it past Allen to make it 5-2.
Three minutes later, it was 6-2, as Skinner sent a backhand pass to Thompson who was open in the faceoff circle. That was the wrong defensive strategy as he fired it high glove on Allen. To his credit, Allen hung in there and made two big stops on Cozens two minutes after the goal.
Just before the midway point of the frame, Juraj Slafkovsky drove the net hard, drawing a holding penalty on Lyubushkin. However, with the game out of reach at that point, the Habs weren’t playing with much intensity at this point and they couldn’t muster up anything.
Two minutes after the penalty expired, Slafkovsky was involved in a hold on a net drive once more. This time, he was the holder, grabbing Thompson which sent the Sabres back to the man advantage. On the last goal, Skinner set up Thompson and this time, it was the other way around as Skinner took the Thompson feed and one-timed it home to put the final nail in the coffin with Allen allowing seven goals for the first time in his career. Shots on goal in the third were 15-8 for Buffalo as they snapped their eight-game losing streak.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Sean Monahan – The shot share numbers weren’t great but he made a few good plays on the power play, made a hustle play to get the second goal for Montreal, and was once again the best player at the faceoff dot. That stands out in a game where not much went well otherwise.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 4 shots, 9/15 faceoffs, 15:44 TOI
2nd Star: Cole Caufield – I could have easily given Caufield the first star but that would have been a bit too predictable. He scored a meaningful goal to get the Habs on the board and was very active in the first period. However, Buffalo did a good job of shutting him down the rest of the way.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 5 shots, 18:38 TOI
3rd Star: Chris Wideman – There was definitely some rust but Wideman settled in as the game went on and more than held his own in somewhat sheltered minutes. I’d have liked to see more aggression from him on the power play but at the same time, he did better than I was expecting at five-on-five, especially compared to some of his teammates. Not a bad return after sitting for a couple of weeks.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 PIMS, 1 shot, 3 blocks, 13:43 TOI
Honourable Mentions: Samuel Montembeault, Arber Xhekaj, and Johnathan Kovacevic – These were the three Habs that didn’t play in this one. They were spared the frustration that came with this game and by not being part of it, they made good cases to draw back in on Wednesday against Columbus.