Friday, 12 February 2016

Game 56: Habs vs. Sabres


- Remember all those times this season Sven Andrighetto was a heathy scratch to make way for the corpses of Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise? Yeah. That happened. A lot. Hopefully those days will never happen again, as Andrighetto takes a nice cross-ice pass from Pacioretty and picks the top of the net right under the crossbar. 1-0 Habs early.

- Subban with a hold that sends Patrick Kane bassackwards onto the ice. Yes, a hold, but plenty of embellishment as well. Now Buffalo gets that powerplay, which I said the Habs needed to avoid to improve their chances tonight.

- Legwand scores off a break, Dale Weise, Thomas Fleischmann and Alexei Emelin getting caught up ice badly. Big-time defensive breakdown there pretty much all-around.

- Desharnais, who was 0 powerplay points over the past 33, still remains on the first unit. Also, Tom Gilbert is out there. Deployment issues ... well ... we've talked about it many times before.

- Kane. Another Habs defensive breakdown in their own zone, Markov with soft pass up the boards generates turnover. Sabres are getting badly outplayed offensively, but Habs are making horrible mistakes. 2-1 Sabres.

- Well, what to say? Habs possession was 70+% in that period, the Sabres generating just two measly scoring chances, but Buffalo scored on both. Sabres have no business holding the lead except for the fact the Habs continue to play very sloppy, undisciplined hockey, especially in their own zone, and insist on first trying to bank the puck up the boards to clear the zone, instead of looking to make a fast breakout. It's been burning the team all season long, and it's burning them tonight. Same old story.


Habs and Sabres after that period, you can see the separation. Also of note, the "managed" minutes of Markov - he played 8:24 in the period, more than any other on the ice. Sigh.

- Wow. Scrivens. Gorges, yes, Josh Gorges, scores after Scrivens started flopping all over the ice, eventually leaving Gorges a wide open net. Scrivens gets the yank, Condon in.

- LOLz. First chance on Condon goes in. Habs net minding falling apart. Puck misplayed by Condon for about the 8th million time this season, and Habs defensive pair Emelin/Pateryn do poor job covering the slot, and it's 4-1 Buffalo.

- Habs this period look like Habs we've come to know and love the past three months. Utterly incompetent in their own zone. 

- While Desharnais whiffs, Galchenyuk blasts a one-timer past Johnson. Habs now down 4-2. Montreal's powerplay seems to be more willing to do cross ice passing closer to the circle, instead of relying on one-timers only from the line. They seem much more dangerous. 

- Even with the horrendous defensive play, pucks are starting to go in for the Habs, Andrighetto with his 2nd, on a shot that Johnson totally misplayed. Sabres net minding also a huge ? mark tonight. We could have a 6-5, or 7-6 final when all is said and done.

- Fantastic shift by Gallagher halfway through the period, Habs continue to press and dominate offensively, Sabres only ahead because they've literally scored four goals in five scoring chances.

- Sabres defence is pretty soft in their own zone, Habs continue to pour high % scoring attempts on Johnson. Buffalo can't continue this way and hope to hold on to the scoreboard lead.

- Yet another horrible misplay via unforced error, this time it's Galchenyuk with the mistake, and he draws a penalty shot for Foligno, who converts. Habs net minders seem incapable of making many though saves tonight, not to blame them for an otherwise very poor and sloppy performance by most everyone wearing a CH. 5-3.

- Good lord. Galcheyuk. Redemption. A perfect cross ice pass off the powerplay, an almost exact replica from his first goal of the night, and it's 5-4. 

- Wild clash tonight between two teams playing some pretty horrible hockey. Who'll be bad enough to not lose tonight? Stay tuned.


- Habs and Sabres through 40 minutes, 2nd period not quite so one-sided, but still Sabres hold scoreboard lead. 

- Habs have had a couple of scoring chances, but still not sensing any urgency from this team. This is a game they simply cannot afford to lose, but they're still going though something resembling motions at the moment. 

- Habs hitting posts, pucks loose in the crease off rebounds, Johnson by skill and equal parts luck, keeping the Sabres ahead, only barely.

- Habs totally swarming the Sabres zone and goal, and somehow the puck stays out, while Sabres defence, completely spent, holds on to every red shirt in sight, and don't get penalized.

- Therrien, believe it or not, appears to be shortening the bench with 8 minutes left. No more ice time for the 4th line, some players will be double shifted, I'd reckon Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. 

- It's all Habs right now, time is drawing short, and desperation increasing. Sabres are basically in a mad scramble to keep the puck out. Not sure if they can keep this up for much longer, but against the luck-tough Canadiens, anything is possible.

- Less than 2 minutes left, Condon out. It's now or never.

- And to end the night in the most Habs way possible, puck cleared out to centre is stopped by a linesman not paying attention, turning the puck over to Buffalo, who put it into the open net. Subban furious, is tossed from the game. Habs lose a heartbreaker. Again.


Can I admit an error in judgment? Yeah, I know - it isn't much of a stretch to think that I've been wrong over hockey analysis, but boy, did I ever get it wrong when I picked the Sabres as the surprise sneak-in team for the playoffs this year.

Excuse me for explaining, but where did this Sabres team have to anywhere but up? Last season they finished with just 54 points, and were first in line for the top draft pick in the 2015 draft, which they lost, as we all know, the Edmonton McDavid's. Poor Buffalo. Still, they didn't come away with zipp - they did draft the wonderfully talented Jack Eichel, and via trades, brought it big names including Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, bolstered by excellent youth such as Tyler Ennis - this Buffalo team was hardly void of capable NHL players.

Unfortunately, the Sabres season hasn't really panned out the way they hoped it would, perhaps more surprisingly, it's been their offence that's been more to blame. Generating a dismal, 2.27 GPG average, made even worse if you factor in that Buffalo's numbers have been helped by a relatively decent powerplay (ranked 8th overall), and you can see this team can't score at even strength to save a season.

So Buffalo, in the midst of a 4-game losing streak in which they've been outscored 17-8, look towards another high draft pick in 2016, one assuming to select somebody who has the ability to put pucks in the net, while the poor fans south of Niagara Falls suffer though another dismal season.

Not to say it's all cinnamon hearts and roses in Habs land, although the Canadiens are seeking to extend their winning streak to 4 games, an inch even closer to the possibility of getting themselves back into playoff contention. The Habs streak has been sparked by excellent play from Tomas Plekanec and Ben Scrivens, which has helped Montreal overcome the continuing lack of contribution from the team's so-called "2nd line" of David Desharnais, (Sven Andrighetto) Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischmann.

As per usual, the Habs lines tonight are all wrong. But here they are:


With Beaulieu apparently (?) injured, Greg Pateryn will draw in, so the Habs D will look like this:


Key for winning tonight for the Habs is pretty simple - don't let Buffalo, who really struggle to score goals, score goals. That means, stay out of the penalty box.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

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