Friday, 23 October 2015

Game Eight: Habs vs. Sabres


- Habs and Sabres through 40 minutes:

- Gallagher with his second of the game, all (and I mean ALL) alone beside Johnson, putting in a rebound top corner. Can't blame Johnson entirely, the Sabres PK positioning was woeful. Habs lead by 3.

- Have to say, I'm very disappointed by what I've seen from Buffalo's defence. I fully expected them to look much more mobile than what I've seen tonight. They certainly looked better Wednesday night against the Leafs, but maybe because it was the Leafs?

- Habs shooting percentage in the game at 25% (!!!), which is going to send their PDO through the roof by the time this one is done.

- Fleischmann with a nice backcheck to break up a Sabres odd man rush, but that aside, he's struggled with passing and positioning tonight. Easily his weakest game I've seen from him this season.

- Another fine shift for Desharnais line, pinning the Sabres in their zone for a minute. Buffalo look increasingly tired and deflated as the period progresses.

- Habs powerplay really working hard on setting up the point for shots. It might be a Buffalo-specific strategy, given that the Sabres defence has (and is) generally pretty soft around their goal.

- Habs basically passing at will in the Buffalo zone, Markov to Pacioretty for his 6th of the season. Tough night for Chad Johnson. 6-2 Montreal.

- Chad Johnson. Poor Chad Johnson. Markov from the point, possibly deflected in by Weise. Andrei with a monster 5 point night. As usual, total route benefited by wide open passing lanes.

- It hasn't been a perfect night, but tonight's final result is what you'd usually expect to see when a not-very-good team plays an elite team. Even with the Habs first period struggles, they ate a sloppy Sabres defense and suspect goaltending alive. The record is 8-0, and now Montreal faces the daunting task of making sure that their first loss of the season doesn't come at the hands of the Leafs. It had better not. We'll never hear the end of it.


- Habs and Sabres after 20 minutes:

- Yeek. Sabres defence very slow to move, as Gallagher cashes in his own rebound to make it 2-0. We keep reminding how the Sabres aren't nearly as bad as they used to be, but their backend will need to be far more anticipative of the play if they want to make substantial strides in the standings this year.

- Moulson gets the Sabres on the board. Sustained pressure in the Habs zone, and Eller plays his position way too high in the zone, leaving Moulson completely unchecked in front of Condon. 2-1.

- Sabres really feeding off that goal, continue to push the Habs. Montreal's 4th line gets on for a quick shift and does a nice job slowing the game down. Canadiens trying to regain the initiative here.

- Habs possession percentage halfway through regulation, 46%.

- O'Reilly evens the game on the powerplay (off a pretty iffy interference call on Fleischmann), off a one-two pass that really should have been stopped by Condon. Sabres giving the Habs fits tonight.

- Torrey Mitchell clearly has become one of the big surprises for the Habs in the early season, scoring off a deflection courtesy a Subban point shot. Habs have not been particularly strong winning deep zone face-offs his season, this goal underscoring how critical that can be. 3-2 Montreal.

- How 'bout that? Habs first powerplay, draw won cleanly back to Markov, who beats Johnson with a 50 footer. Winning deep zone face-offs ... very important. 4-2 Habs.

- Habs benefiting by taking advantage of opportunity - winning faceoffs deep in the Sabres zone led directly to two late period goals. Not by far Montreal's best start of the year, but enough against the overmatched Sabres. Third period should be interesting to witness whether the Habs will revert to their bad "sit on it" form, or try to replicate their brilliant victory over Detroit last week.


- Sabres first shot a good indication of what they're capable of - generating a centre ice turnover and coming in fast. Condon forced to make a pretty good arm save.

- Two very sloppy giveaways by the Habs early - one at centre, one in their own zone.

- Watched the Sabres game against the Leafs two nights ago - and while they're far from perfect, they play a much more structured defensive game than they did last year. Way, way more.

- Buffalo with legs so far in this game, Habs very tentative, making may passing errors. Not a good sign.

- Brian Flynn getting thumped again, and he's in the dressing room. Might be the Habs first sustained injury of the season.

- Desharnais line continues to play well, perhaps because the line does a far more effective job gaining the zone (by carrying the puck) than other lines.

- Habs PK looking good ... and for not the first time this season, actually were a bigger scoring threat than any given powerplay.

- Gallagher is put on in Flynn's spot.

- Man, when the Sabres transition, they do it very quickly. I'm mildly surprised they've only managed so far to score 11 goals in 6 games.

- After what can only be descried as a shaky start, Habs seeming to find their ground here as the period progresses.

- Pretty, pretty end-to-end passing goal, with Subban (!) returning a pass to Dale Weise off a 2-on-1, Johnson with little chance. Habs take 1-0 lead.

- Last minute flurry by the Sabres, Condon making some nice saves. Still, Habs made a very nice recovery, looking particularly good with zone entries, perhaps because the Sabres defence, a work in progress, is playing a little too passive. Condon looks solid, one wonders where he's been all these years looking so good right now.



Last year? Remember last year? The Buffalo Sabres, I'm pretty sure, would like to forget all about last year.

But let's remember last year. The Sabres finished dead last in the NHL standings. A measely 23 wins in 82 games. 161 goals scored (worst in the League), 274 goals against (2nd worst in the League). An absolutely grotesque 37.5% 5v5 possession average. By far the worst in the League (and quite possibly the worst in NHL history).

And to rub salt into the wounds, the last-ranked Sabres then lost the lottery draft, and with it, the rights to draft Connor McDavid.

How low can you go?

Well, I think it's safe to say the low point in Buffalo has been passed. During the summer the Sabres made a series of moves that's made an immediate effect for their competitive prospects this season. Things can change in a hurry!

First, licking their wounds from the draft lottery loss, the Sabres drafted Jack Eichel, which ain't too bad as far as a consolation prize is concerned. Eichel has scored 2 goals already in his first 6 games in the bigs, and shows all the promise of becoming a top-flight winger in the very near future.

But that's not all. Buffalo picked up disgruntled forward Evander Kane for relative peanuts, and then acquired centre Ryan O'Reilly and defensman Cody Franson. That's a considerable amount of talent added within a very short time span.

The effects, at least early into this season, appear to be very positive. Remember how the Sabres were bottom-of-the-barrel in those major statistical categories? Well, now Buffalo finds itself with a couple of wins (okay, not bad), 11 goals - which still has them near the bottom of the League, but not at the absolute bottom, and 15 goals against, which remarkably puts them into the top half of the League.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is possession. From the mid 30s last year, to the mid 40s so far this season. Again, when you consider how big the step was made by the Sabres in just a few months, these improvements are impressive.

That all said, the Sabres are still not a very good team - ranked against some of the League's better clubs, which includes the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo is considerably overmatched. Tonight should be no different, with the best team in the League coming into the First Niagara Centre, riding a 7-0 record to start the season.

If Buffalo's totals are impressive, the Habs numbers are ridiculous - perhaps most so defensively, where Montreal has only allowed 7 goals in 7 games. I don't care who you're playing, where you're playing, or even why you're playing. If you only allow one or less goal to your opponent, you're a pretty sure fire bet to win pretty much every game.

Of course, the Habs won't do that this season - eventually they will lose, and hey, it might even be tonight. The Sabres are a young and fast team, and can turn the puck on your very quickly, if you aren't on your game. The Candiens will be starting rookie Mike Condon tonight, and who knows - if the backup doesn't have a good night, then the Sabres might hand the Habs their first loss of the season.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

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