After beating Washington on Saturday night, the Habs looked to make it two straight wins as they travelled to Buffalo to take on the Sabres on Monday. This time, they took advantage of a third-period power play, allowing them to skate away with the 3-1 win.
There were no changes to the lineup for this one which meant the Canadiens lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Harvey-Pinard
Anderson – Newhook – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Barron
1) Last game, it took a while for the Habs to find their skating legs but that wasn’t the case in this one. The transition game, in particular, made a mark early. Juraj Slafkovsky had a partial breakaway that was covered well by Buffalo’s defence but on the same shift, another odd-man transition rush resulted in gaining the zone with control, leading to Justin Barron’s wrister from the point beating Eric Comrie. Something tells me not too many had Barron, the seventh defenceman, being the first Montreal blueliner to score this season. He’s the first Hab blueliner since P.K. Subban to have six goals before his 22nd birthday. Not too shabby.
2) Bad penalties have been a problem in the first couple of weeks and Brendan Gallagher’s offensive zone tripping penalty qualifies. So did the goal allowed to Jeff Skinner by Jake Allen. It was a good shot, yes, but Allen wasn’t square to the post which helped create the angle for the goal.
3) One concern I’ve had in the early going this season (and even last year) is that when the Canadiens get back on their heels, it takes a long time for them to recover. In next the 12 minutes after Skinner’s goal, Montreal had one shot on goal. Part of this is growing pains but the Habs can’t get rattled that much and allow the momentum to swing that much the other way. Every now and then, you just need a bit of zone time and a couple of pucks directed at the opposition net to start to turn things around; they can’t be waiting that long for it to happen.
4) Slafkovsky had what would have been his third rush chance of the game nullified early in the second period by an offside call which was, well, kind of obvious. But I mention it as it’s something we didn’t see much from him a year ago. Now, he’s more comfortable reading the play and knowing when and when not to take off. Situational awareness is difficult to quantify but this is one way to do so and he has certainly improved in this element.
5) Arber Xhekaj is quickly earning a reputation around the league as someone who takes some unnecessary penalties. His roughing minor on Kyle Okposo after the whistle in the second period was another obvious one. I get that physicality is a big part of his game but he needs to be smarter about when to use it and when not to. Reputations matter a lot for the referees; don’t make it easy for them to just fall into the habit of leaning into assuming the worst when it comes to his plays.
6) On that power play, the Habs were largely hemmed in save for a two-on-one with Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson. The two had another rush chance on the kill late in the period. These two are starting to show some chemistry. It’s a far cry from the season opener in Toronto when that veteran line looked lost at times. Smarts stand out on a young team; these two have it.
7) Much has been written about Brendan Gallagher’s declining skill set. But one element that is still there is his willingness to drive the net. (And that’s a legitimate skill.) That came in handy as he buried a rebound after David Savard’s net drive. Back-to-back games with a goal with the total combined distance from the goal line being only a few feet.
8) Speaking of Savard, he had himself quite the shift on the penalty kill in the third (from another unnecessary offensive zone penalty, this time from Monahan). Two big blocked shots while losing his skate blade throughout; Allen capped it off with a big stop after that on Skinner. Lost in the whole sequence? Savard didn’t return the rest of the way which is quite notable with the Habs in action on Tuesday.
9) Unlike Saturday’s game, Montreal took advantage of their late power play to help seal the victory. Both units moved the puck well and it was the second one that was rewarded for their efforts with Pearson scoring with four seconds left in the advantage on a nice feed from Gallagher. Very quietly, he has himself a four-game point streak.
10) The number of the night? 25. No, that’s not the number of shots the Habs had but rather the number of scouts in attendance, according to TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie. While it’s worth noting that this was the only game league-wide on Monday, it’s still a little fun to wonder who teams might be looking at. If you’re one of the ones who think Allen might have been getting showcased (I’m not in that camp but some are), the veteran netminder certainly made a strong impression.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jake Allen (1 GA on 37 shots, .973 SV%)
2nd Star: Tanner Pearson (1 G, 1 A, +2, 6 shots, 4 hits, 13:20 TOI)
3rd Star: Brendan Gallagher (1 G, 1 A, 2 PIMS, +2, 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 takeaways, 11:14 TOI)