The Canadiens held on to sixth position in the Atlantic Division, downing the Sabres with a 3-2 shootout victory in a visit to Buffalo on Saturday night, in spite of giving up 48 shots. Cayden Primeau’s work was excellent after a forgettable game in his last outing.
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Dvorak – Gallagher
Evans – Monahan – Anderson
Armia – Stephens – Ylonen
Matheson – Lindstrom
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic
1) The Habs took three consecutive tripping penalties in the first period, with each of Johnathan Kovacevic, Primeau, and Kaiden Guhle getting called. They added three more minors (one an offsetting call), giving the Sabres a total of five power plays but the penalty kill unit was refreshingly effective on the night, keeping a clean sheet and even generating a scoring chance on Joel Armia’s breakaway in the first.
2) We certainly saw a prime Primeau tonight, as the young goaltender was peppered with shots, particularly in the first and third frames. Playing with confidence and aggression, he took angles away from the Buffalo forwards, who had clearly not read the HabsWorld Forum as they took few shots on his glove side.
3) Mattias Samuelsson, who weighs nearly 60 lbs more than Cole Caufield, was sent off early in the second for interfering with the Habs’ sniper. With Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Juraj Slafkovsky just finishing a shift, it was the second unit that took to the ice first on the power play–and they played impressively well, considering the significantly stronger players that are on the top one. Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher, Jesse Ylonen, Christian Dvorak and Justin Barron controlled the play and generated chances, keeping the Sabres hemmed in their own end for well more than half the power play.
4) Eric Robinson was sent off for five minutes on a boarding call, as he hit Barron on the numbers, sending him face-first into the glass. A solid boarding call, but Barron should be taking more care on these types of plays, as the risk of injury is high. Guhle got a two-minute roughing minor for the ensuing fracas, so the Habs ended up with a three-minute power play after two minutes of four-on-four hockey.
5) After Jayden Struble made a great defensive play in his own zone to prevent a scoring chance, the Canadiens finally opened the scoring, just a few seconds before Guhle was to step on the ice to start the power play for the bleu, blanc, et rouge. As the Canadiens rushed over the line, Struble headed toward the net, and then redirected a Johnathan Kovacevic pass past a surprised Devon Levi for his first NHL goal. The Habs lead the league in defenceman scoring, but it’s not the Shea Weber cannons from the blue line that are doing the scoring, it’s the defencemen spotting opportunities and “activating”–as Martin St. Louis likes to say–themselves to create scoring chances.
6) Suzuki followed that up with a power play goal just 14 seconds later, making an end-to-end rush and fooling Levi with a shot from the right-side hash marks. The captain is back on pace now to match last season’s production, after but a single goal in his past 12 games.
7) Starting the third period with a good 2-0 lead, the Habs stumbled into that final frame. Only a minute had gone by when Struble misjudged a pass from the end boards, giving it to Tage Thompson instead of one of his own teammates. At the same time, Jake Evans collided with Jeff Skinner at the blue line, and the Habs winger fell onto the ice. From there, Thompson got the puck to Skinner, who was able to beat Primeau for the Sabres’ opening goal. And five minutes later, Barron gave the puck away near the hash marks, allowing Kyle Okposo to snipe a shot past Primeau and tie the game.
8) Suzuki and Caufield had a beautiful two-on-one break midway through the final period, and Suzuki, on the left, made the pass across for a Caufield one-timer. However, Levi got his left pad out, and Caufield could not lift the puck into the net. That was as close as either team got to a third goal in the final period. Seven shots by Caufield for the night was a solid could for the young winger, though, and this level of play should net him additional goals sooner rather than later.
9) With Dvorak called for tripping with about a minute left in regulation, the overtime started with 4-on-3 play, and then continued as 4-on-4 for the remainder as there were no stoppages. The highlight of the extra period was Matheson’s defensive play on Dahlin: having lost his stick, he managed to push Dahlin out of the Habs’ zone without a stick, and then kick the puck all the way to the Sabres’ end to enable a shift change.
10) The shootout did not feature shutdown goaltending this time. While Levi managed to poke the puck away from Suzuki, Caufield (five-hole) and Jesse Ylonen (top glove side) scored to tie the shootout at 2-2. That gave the opportunity to Juraj Slafkovsky, who outwaited Levi and then tucked it behind the Buffalo goalie for the shootout victory.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First Star: Cayden Primeau (48 shots, 46 saves, .958 save percentage, 2.61 GSAx) was at his best tonight, keeping the Habs in the game in the first and third periods. The Sabres were shooting fairly low, and Primeau had that covered. These kinds of games are shining stars on Primeau’s CV, what he needs now is some consistency.
Second Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (0g, 0a, 2 shots, 1 hit) showcased his progression once again, showing not only hockey IQ and desire to shoot in the offensive zone but also the defensive smarts that can make him a complete hockey player. His first shootout goal–in his first attempt–was icing on the cake.
Third Star: Mike Matheson (0g, 1a, 2 shots, 0 hits) was showing his earlier form, with smart defensive work to break up plays, and nearly five minutes of PK time.