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The Habs looked to kick off their week on a winning note as they hosted Buffalo on Wednesday night.  It was a chippy affair and while Montreal led for a good chunk of the game, they came up a goal short as the Sabres won 3-2.

Montreal made three lineup changes from their game against Washington on Saturday.  Samuel Montembeault got the nod in goal, taking the place of Jake Allen.  On the back end, Jordan Harris returned after being cleared to come back from his concussion while up front, Jesse Ylonen was in for Michael Pezzetta.  Meanwhile, there was also some line juggling up front; the team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Roy – Newhook – Anderson
Armia – Evans – Gallagher
Pearson – Gignac – Ylonen

Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Harris
Xhekaj – Savard

10 Thoughts

1) Montreal got an early power play when Casey Mittelstadt tripped Brendan Gallagher.  They only got one real opportunity but it’s one worth highlighting.  Nick Suzuki spends a lot of time either at the point or near a faceoff dot on the power play.  This time, he had an opening to get to the middle of the ice, catching Buffalo off guard.  Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made the stop but it was still nice to see the power play getting a little more unpredictable.  Good things will come of it even when they don’t score.

2) Unfortunately, that power play came to an early end with an entirely avoidable penalty.  Zach Benson got control of the puck in Montreal’s zone along the boards and as Mike Matheson approached, he turned to try to pin the puck.  Matheson threw a hard hit, earning a well-deserved boarding call.  That’s one of those ‘a veteran should know better’ penalties.  Once the player has turned his back, it’s an easy boarding call.  Just pin him and let another player come back to win the puck battle.

3) Arber Xhekaj’s shot got plenty of attention last game when he fired one of the hardest shots in the league this season.  He had a similar chance to step into one a little past the midway mark.  He didn’t get as much speed on it (about 19 mph less) but he placed it perfectly below the crossbar and above Luukkonen’s arm to open the scoring on a play that was a bit of a fluke to even happen.  Joshua Roy sent a nice one-handed pass to the front of the net.  Had it not been for the pass hitting a Buffalo defender and changing direction, Xhekaj wouldn’t have gotten a chance to fire.

4) Many fans talk about the progression of the young defence.  But several times in this game, they were getting blown by in transition or they failed to cover a Buffalo player in front of the net entirely.  Matheson helped make up for his penalty by stopping Jeff Skinner on a wraparound in one of those instances while Montembeault had to make a few too many point-blank saves for my liking.  Eventually, it would come back to bite them.

5) Point shots were the name of the game in the early part of the second period.  Early on, Henri Jokiharju’s point shot was tipped by Zemgus Girgensons past Montembeault, a redirection that the netminder didn’t have much of a chance on.  However, two minutes later, Peyton Krebs had a perfect redirection on Jayden Struble’s point shot to beat Luukkonen.  (No, you didn’t miss a trade, Krebs put it in his own net.)

6) Part of the growing pains of Juraj Slafkovsky will be on the ‘avoiding bad penalties’ front.  His first holding call was at least somewhat involved in the play but it was costly.  Joel Armia turned the puck over in the offensive zone on the power play, leading to an odd-man rush for Buffalo that noted Hab-killer Jeff Skinner scored on.  Slafkovsky then took a completely unnecessary holding call nowhere near the puck soon after the goal although the Canadiens killed that one off.

7) Lately, Montreal’s power play has been pretty good.  Their opportunity late in the second was anything but.  Cole Caufield struggled with the puck on his stick multiple times, and the Habs couldn’t get set up.  The end result was Caufield sending a poor pass to Matheson, resulting in a turnover and yet another break for Buffalo, this time by Alex Tuch.  The Habs could only get away with allowing so many of those rush opportunities and this time, Tuch made no mistake to give the Sabres their first lead.

8) Roy had a strong chance to tie it up in the third, sneaking one past Luukkonen.  However, it caught just enough of the netminder to head for the outside of the post and the Habs couldn’t tuck it home.  Roy is at his best when he’s sneaky efficient.  He’s not going to be a big highlight-reel player in the NHL but as a player who makes a few subtly strong plays a game, that might be the key to success for him.  Roy did exactly that in this game.

9) For the most part, the Habs controlled the play in the third period.  It’s not as if they were peppering Luukkonen with a bunch of high-danger chances but Buffalo wasn’t getting much going.  In terms of efficiency, it was a solid third, a good change of pace from a Canadiens team who usually struggles big time in the final frame.

10) Montreal got an opportunity late when Tage Thompson went off for slashing Alex Newhook.  However, the power play couldn’t generate too much and Slafkovsky capped off a hat-trick of penalties, taking a hooking call on Dylan Cozens in the defensive zone which put an end to the comeback hopes.  A tough game for him as his point streak came to an end.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Arber Xhekaj – The extra physicality in this game worked in Xhekaj’s favour as someone who likes to play with that edge.  That seemed to give him more confidence as he was a lot more assertive than we’ve seen from him for most of this season.  It’s a fine line he has to walk from playing to the line but not crossing it but when he can do that successfully, good things happen as they did in this one.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 4 shots, 4 hits, 18:52 TOI

2nd Star: Alex Newhook – I could easily go with Roy from this line in this slot but I already talked about him earlier so let’s go with Newhook instead.  It’s a game like this that will keep giving management and the coaching staff the belief that he can play down the middle.  He had a solid defensive game, a decent night at the faceoff dot, and helped generate some scoring chances.  Not bad for someone who hasn’t been back that long.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 5/8 faceoffs, 18:04 TOI

3rd Star: Josh Anderson – Truthfully, this is more of an Honourable Mention selection but we don’t do those anymore so I’m going to put him here.  Anderson has had a rough stretch as of late, no question about that.  But there was a quiet efficiency to his game – playing with Roy and Newhook probably helped a lot – as he complemented that line well.  He’s an intriguing fit with those two and if this game is any indication, it might be worth giving him a few games there.

Stats: 0 points, +2 rating, 2 PIMS, 4 shots, 14:43 TOI