Saturday, 21 January 2017

Game 48: Sabres vs. Habs


Buffalo 3, Montreal 2 (OT)

FIRST PERIOD:

- Lehner gets the start - obviously Sabres not comfortable starting Nilsson back-to-back nights. 

- Predictably tight start, the Sabres doing a good job in their own zone, as per what we mentioned before about this team having strong 1st periods this season.

- Rasmus Ristolainen, who played a mind-boggling 35 minutes last night, his numbers clearly scaled back if first half of this period is any indicator. Roughly on track for 8 minutes this period.

- Good zone entry for Galchenyuk carrying the puck, covered by the defenseman, he dishes the puck off to his left to Andrighetto, which eliminated a scoring chance. While it looked like a poor play, it was his only option because the fellow who was supposed to give him a proper outlet, Andrew Shaw, was lagging far behind at centre ice. That's a pretty good example of how putting Galchenyuk next to guys like Shaw take a pretty potent quiver out of the Habs bag.

- Max Pacioretty is gonna have bad dreams about how he somehow didn't put the puck in an open net - twice. Beautiful play by Radulov to drive the net and dish him the puck for what was a slam-dunk goal.

- Danault line playing pretty free-wheeling hockey so far - generating some pretty fast zone entires, but also coughing up the puck more than you'd like to see. Sabres are getting good scoring opportunities while they're on the ice.

- Lot of attention this week about Alex Galchenyuk being "off" since his return, which is a line I'm not really buying - his speed and physicality is as good as it ever was. Someone who has genuinely been struggling since his return? Paul Byron. Legs aren't there, passing is off ... not nearly the same (very good) Byron before he went on the IL.

- Such a terrible call on Radulov for hooking. You can't penalize someone in the NHL for lifting a stick, but that's what he's been sent to the box for.

- Even steven first period of hockey - Sabres, with that suspect defence, doing a pretty good job in their zone, only a couple of broken plays that the Habs failed to capitalize on. Galchenyuk looks fast - I wonder how much longer Therrien is going to stubbornly keep him mired next to Shaw on that 3rd line. Hopefully not much longer, because the Canadiens are sacrificing plenty of offence not having him up the middle between Pacioretty and Radulov.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Pretty even period, Sabres with more shots on goal, but scoring chances and shooting attempts were pretty much even:


- Habs massive push creates an eventual Sabres defensive breakdown, with Lehkonen skating to the low slot to receive the puck and fire it top corner past Lehner. That's Buffalo's story this year - defence makes too many avoidable errors that eventually costs them games.

- Here's a pretty good illustration of my last point - Lehkonen basically goes unmarked. It's a relatively easy goal.

- Habs respond with their own version of clunky defence, Petry falling and Beaulieu just lost in front of Price, Gionta knocking a loose puck home to tie the game.

- Danault tips home a pretty hard Petry shot from the line to give the Habs a 2-1 lead. Again, the Sabres defence not doing a very good job guarding their crease. 

- Sabres defense gets slower and slower as the game proceeds - it's plain as day. Habs are getting increasing scoring chances as the game progresses.

- So the Habs have just scored, and they're pouring it on, Sabres are clinging to life in their own zone, and then ... enter Alexei Emelin to take an absolutely stupid penalty, hitting Moulson from behind into the boards. Does he actually think while he plays? Science would say probably not.

- An untidy period, but not bad from the Habs perspective. They had tons of momentum after Danault scored to give them a 2-1 lead, but that was pretty much single-handedly ruined by Emelin's dumb board. After that, the Habs mojo just seemed to slip away, much of the rest of the period consisted of broken plays and poor passing. Canadiens have no good reason to not put this game away in the 3rd period - we'll see.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs markedly better team in the 2nd period, which we kinda figured would happened in our pregame analysis. Still, the Sabres are hanging tough.


- Zach Redmond. Oy. Sabres come literally within an inch of tying the game, largely because of his wretched puck handling. 

- Sabres are just putting the puck on net - which is fine - you never know what might happen. Maybe a huge fluke, or Price whiffs, and the game is tied. But you still have to have structure, you still have to focus on generating shots from good spots. Sabres aren't really doing that right now, even though they're running up the shot clock.

- Thomas Plekanec. Is there anyone with a slower shot in the NHL?

- Not crazy about the Habs approach in this period - defence being far too passive, which is allowing the Sabres to gain the zone with a fair amount of speed. Seems like the Canadiens are attempting to sit on this 1 goal lead for an entire period. Folly.

- Finally Habs finding some legs and being a bit more aggressive, Byron and Lehkonen doing good work creating decent scoring chances, Lehner keeping his team alive. 8 minutes left.

- Wow, Franson of all guys ties the game with a seeing-eye shot from the line off the draw. O'Reilly beating Plekanec badly off the draw. And so the Habs can't hold the lead. We figured.

- Nathan Beaulieu is kind of a mess right now, and I think it's mainly a confidence issue.

- Carey Price with two incredible saves with seconds on the clock to prevent the Sabres from winning the game. We doubted his abilities? Doubt no more.

- Canadiens played a very passive 3rd period, going through the skating motions, and doing a pretty horrible job checking Buffalo. Sabres will be delighted to take at least a point out of this one, and given how much they dominated the 3rd period, would be just to take the extra point.

OVERTIME:

- So will the Habs go through the motions to try to get to a shootout?

- Habs have total puck control the first 1:30, Robin Lehner with possibly the best save of the year in the NHL, totally robbing Galchenyuk. 

- Hah, Bogosian with the game winner off the goalpost, his first goal of the year, if you can believe it, and just seconds after Lehner's incredible save. What can ya do? 

- Final analysis, that Lehner save will be of legend - it's probably going to be the best save by a goaltender for the entire year, and arguably, that's one of the most spectacular saves of all-time. But then it's a save that really shouldn't have happened in the first place, as the Habs could have snuffed the Sabres out in the 3rd period, but instead, sat back, and let Buffalo take over the game, as this possession chart indicates:


The turning point? Well, one might say the start of the 3rd period moving forward, but I'd harken back to the stunningly stupid penalty committed by Emelin in the 2nd period, right smack when the Habs were taking it to Buffalo, pinning them in their own zone, and narrowing in on what would likely have been a game-killer 3rd goal. While the Habs killed that penalty, they never really seemed to regain that momentum and pressure. It's stupid, selfish decisions like the one Emelin committed that go well beyond him spending two minutes in the penalty box - from a wider perspective, it's events like that which can rip victories from hands and turn them into defeats.




HABS/SABRES GAME PREVIEW: CAN THE CANADIENS EXPLOIT BUFFALO'S SLOW DEFENCE?

A few bullet points to help guide you through the game tonight were the Habs seek to maintain their comfortable lead atop the Atlantic Division, as they host the last place Buffalo Sabres.

- Sabres are coming off a 3-2 OT win last night over the Red Wings, yeah - the same Wings that the Habs could barely muster up a scoring chance against on Monday afternoon. Since the start of the new year, the Sabres have actually played some half-decent hockey, winning 5 of 9 games so far, including victories over the likes of the Stars, Flyers, Jets and Rangers.

- Buffalo doesn't have very many core strengths - on average each game, they give up too many shots (31, 5th worst in the NHL), but they have received some pretty good goaltending this season from backup Anders Nilsson and first stringer Robin Lehner. With a team .918 Sv%, the Sabres have the 5th best goaltending in the NHL.

- The Sabres big downfall this year? Mainly it's their defence. In particular, how their defence plays as the game progresses. This season, the Sabres have given up 28 first period goals, which is quite good (5th best in the League). However as the game progresses, Buffalo's blue line becomes increasingly disorganized. Second period goals surrendered: 47. Third period goals surrendered: 42. Add 'em all up, and you have a Buffalo team with a winning percentage when leading after 1 period of just .600, and when leading after 40 minutes, .733, 7th worst in the NHL.

- Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe was injured last night, so youngster Casey Nelson was called up from the farm. He'll play on the Buffalo 3rd D line.

- Sabres lineup tonight? Sure, no problem:

Emmins/O'Reilly/Okposo
Foligno/Eichel/Reinhart
Kane/Girgensons/Gionta
Carrier/Cal O'Reilly/Moulson

Bogosian/Ristolainen
Falk/Fedun
Nelson/Franson

Starting in goal? Uncertain. Lehner gets the bulk of starts, but he did get a rude yank on Tuesday night, so ... Nilsson?

- Habs lineup will essentially be the same as last night's, with Carey Price this time getting the start.

- Keys for the Habs? Use speed. The Sabres blue line is sluggish at best, downright slow at worst (in particular the Nelson/Franson pairing). If the Canadiens can generate a decent number of centre ice turnovers, and execute carrying the Sabres' zone, they should be in good shape tonight, regardless of who's in goal for Buffalo.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.