Thursday, 11 April 2013

Game Forty: Habs vs. Sabres

First Period:

- Very agreeable to Therrien's decision in moving Ryder alongside Eller and Galchenyuk. Eller's been our best playing forward this month.

- Plekanec doesn't fool anyone, especially Miller. Bourque was ideally positioned to receive the pass on the 2-on-1 break.

- Quite a few Habs jerseys in the stands tonight in Buffalo. Scoring tickets costs about 1/4 the price for the Bell Centre.

- Excellent first save by Budaj on Myers. Beaulieu not in very good position during that Sabres rush.

- This Bourque/Plekanec thing might work after all. Pretty pass Bourque to Pleks, prettier dish Pleks to Gionta. 1-0. Sabres defense ... who knows?

- Habs have been trying to feed a winger from defense to high slot for the last couple of weeks, but it never works. The shooting lanes are nearly always jammed.

- Buffalo, for whatever reason, is one of the few places in the east where Subban isn't booed each time he touches the puck.

- Ryder shift pays off, nice blind feed to Galchenyuk, 2-0. Sabres defense once again MIA. This could get ugly.

- Habs are just on it with puck possession. Sabres are being made dizzy chasing the puck around their zone. Simply no contest right now.

- First period looked exactly like a bottom feeder team against a League-leading team. Habs merely need to play that period two more times and they can clinch their post-season spot.

- Ott plasters Gallagher, Habs had no enforcer on the ice to respond, so Bouillon drops his gloves - and unbelievably gets the takedown over Ott.

Second Period:

- Well that's nice. Bourque has been credited with Habs first goal, assists to Gionta and Plekanec.

- Sabres' defense is absolutely wretched. There is no other way of describing them. Gallagher all alone in front of Miller off a point shot rebound. The nearest defender was a good 20 feet away. Just awful.

- Sabres are waving the white flag for their season. Habs forwards going straight at Miller at will. This game could get embarrassing.

- Eller line again looks fine, but Desharnais/Pacioretty/Gallagher have arguably looked even better, which is a refreshing change for that struggling line.

- Therrien rewarding accordingly, Desharnais line rewarded with first shift on the powerplay.

- 8 minutes left, shots are 28-9. Yup, that's about right.

- Habs taking a page out of Washington's Tuesday night book, clogging up the shooting lanes. When something does get through, Budaj is there.

- Markov on the powerplay makes it four - zeerow.

- Make-up call on Prust. Sabres need something, anything here.

- Boos rain down, Sabres' behinds receiving a sound thrashing tonight. 32-11 shots total through 40 minutes. The play has been even more lopsided.

Third Period:

- As if they needed more of it, Habs' collective Corsi numbers are likely to be through the roof after this one is done.

- Flynn ruins Budaj's shutout bid, shorthanded no less. Markov making silly and unnecessary pinch and gets caught. Therrien won't like that play, especially by someone who ought know better. 4-1.

- So making slight contact with the goaltender outside the crease is also a penalty? Okay, then.

- Sabres doing a very good demonstration of what a 30th ranked powerplay looks like.

- Doesn't seem right for Subban to not be on the scoresheet. We can put that to bed now. 5-1. P.K. now leads the League defenseman scoring race by 5 points.

- The night gets even worse for the Sabres, as they're called for abuse of officials. Wow.

- Thanks to those fiercesome Islanders, Habs are back in first place. Helped by a pathetic performance by the Sabres, and the Habs, let's not forget, are a danged good hockey team that played a danged good game tonight. Possession differential was ridiculous, the final Corsi numbers should be as interesting as they will be lopsided.

Oh yeah. Let's not forget. The Habs have officially clinched a playoff spot. But that mission was long ago a foregone conclusion. The focus now is on preparing for, and winning a championship.

Gameday Game Preview of the Game Tonight Preview 

One more win. That's all that's required. Two lousy points and the Habs can put a little "x" beside their name where x marks the spot for "book a post-season ticket".

The only thing standing in the way of accomplishing what we all pretty much knew was going to happen three months ago are the Buffalo Sabres.

Now, these Sabres. They largely gutted their roster before the trade deadline for picks and prospects, even though they had faint hopes of qualifying for a playoff spot. With only a handful of games left, however, those hopes are pretty much gone, as Buffalo finds itself in 12th place, 8 points behind 8th with 8 games to go. You do the math.

So are the Sabres playing desperate? We've been here before, with games against so-called "desperate" teams, including the Jets and 'Canes from a couple of weeks ago, both contests relatively easily won by the Canadiens. Still, those games were won while we had a healthy defense. Today, not so much. Emelin is done until next season. Diaz is still out (for how long is still anyone's guess), and if Tuesday's game against Washington is any indication, the blue line isn't near as physical as it was once before, or needs to be.

The Sabres are a relatively healthy bunch, with just Alex Sulzer and Ville Leino out with injuries. After getting off to a torrid start, winger Thomas Vanek has more or less come crashing back to earth. Scoring 23 points in his first 10 games, Vanek has since tallied just 10 points in his last 20 starts.

Other odds and ends: The Sabres sub-12% powerplay makes them the worst in the have the League, Habs continue to motor along, 4th overall. Buffalo isn't a whole lot better on the PK - 26th overall, the Habs, after a sluggish start to their PK unit where they struggled to stay atop the bottom third, have improved a tad to 14th overall.

Sabres, in case you hadn't seen much of them during the year, have been chronically guilty of turning the puck over in their own zone, making them exceptionally vulnerable to the forecheck, of which has been one of the Habs' big strength this season. So on paper, this really shouldn't be much of a contest.

Ryan Miller will start tonight for Buffalo, and the freshly re-signed Peter Budaj will get the nod for the Habs.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

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