The Habs returned to the ice on Thursday after an impressive win against the Stars on Tuesday. More importantly, they returned to the Bell Centre after a seven-game road trip that was interrupted by the Christmas break as they hosted the disappointing Buffalo Sabres. But the Sabres were not disappointing on this night as they effectively used their special teams to pass the Habs in the standings with a decisive 6-1 win.
Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Sean Monahan — Josh Anderson
Brendan Gallagher – Jake Evans – Jesse Ylonen
Michael Pezzetta — Mitchell Stephens — Joel Armia
Mike Matheson — David Savard
Kaiden Guhle — Justin Barron
Jayden Struble — Jordan Harris Johnathan Kovacevic
1) The Sabres were definitely the better team to start the game as they attacked the Montreal zone and created multiple scoring chances. Two of those chances rang off the post as Allen was beat twice on shots he should not have been beat on.
2) The first penalty of the game went to Armia for a not-so-surprising hooking call that had to drive coach St. Louis nuts. The Habs managed to kill the penalty, but this type of play by Armia is not a good way to get positive momentum for the team.
3) As soon as the Armia penalty was over, the Sabres were caught with too many players on the ice. Montreal struggled to gain the zone but were dangerous in the final moments of the advantage and controlled the final moments of the scoreless first.
4) The first goal of the game came early in the second after some strong offensive zone puck possession by Struble that opened a lane for Armia to wire home a shot from far out. The Sabres challenged the goal after Pezzetta bumped into Devon Levi moments prior to the goal so the goal came back.
5) Moments later, Savard was forced to take a slashing penalty to stop a partial break. The Sabres did open the scoring as Jeff Skinner delivered a cross-ice pass through the crease with Matheson covering the backdoor pass higher in the slot. Not much Allen could do about that one.
6) As play resumed, the officials made a mockery of the game as Peyton Krebs went to hit Stephens but got the worst of the exchange. Krebs bowled over Zemgus Girgensons which apparently was why Stephens ended up with an interference call. A terrible call like that always ends up in the net, and this was no exception as they reversed the last play with Alex Tuch going cross-ice to Skinner who put it in for a 2-0 lead.
7) Buffalo was suddenly all over the Canadiens until Pezzetta took another penalty for the Habs, this time for tripping. Armia would have none of this though as he picked Rasmus Dahlin’s pocket in the offensive zone and rifled home a shot over Levi’s shoulder for a shorthanded goal that made the score 2-1.
8) The Habs finished the period on the man advantage and came close to evening the score as Slafkovsky had his one-timer go off Levi only to hit the crossbar.
9) With Montreal dominating the opening seven minutes of the period, the Sabres got one off the rush that really hurt the Habs. Buffalo came in with three skaters, but Pezzetta completed a strong backcheck to negate the third player. The second player drove the net and Savard followed him. This left Matheson to cover the puck carrier, but Matheson never read the coverage around him and gave Jack Quinn way too much time. Quinn took it and wired a shot in the top corner to extend the lead. Rough game for Matheson.
10) Moments later, the game was ended when Struble blew a tire behind the net which opened the wraparound for Skinner. Allen got the save, but Tage Thompson was all over the rebound to make it 4-1. Buffalo would eventually bury an empty netter after an offensive zone faceoff was lost. They would then add a sixth goal as the Habs got undisciplined on their pinches which created several odd-man rushes to end the game; Thompson added his second of the period with less than 90 seconds left.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
Armia was his usual sleepy self through the first period until he took yet another hooking penalty in the offensive zone. Someone must have said something to Armia because he came alive after that penalty. He scored a first goal that would be negated before using his skating to create a turnover that opened the play for his shorthanded marker. Armia was all over the ice after these goals, and the coaching staff recognized this as he got extra ice time in the third period which was deserved. Too bad we know he’s returning to a slumbering giant in the next game.
Stats: 1 goal (plus one disallowed goal), 3 shots, 15:12 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jayden Struble
What a first period by Struble. He delivered two big hits and got into many Sabres’ faces when called for. He was then one of the rare blueliners to remain calm and play well as the rest of the Habs fell asleep early in the second period. He was not as visible in the third as others got significantly more ice time with the Habs chasing the game.
Stats: -1, 3 hits, 1 shot, 17:45 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Allen
Was Allen excellent? No, but neither was the team around him and it’s not like the goals were his fault either. After watching a game that wasn’t a steal by Samuel Montembeault be called that, Allen’s game tonight would have been a steal if the Habs could have helped him out a bit.
Stats: 32 saves, 37 shots, 5.05 GAA, .865 save %, 59:26 T.O.I.