So much for tightening up defensively.
Who’d have thought that a Montreal-Buffalo match up after both teams had played the night before would produce one of the most entertaining games of the year? The teams combined for 76 shots on goal and a whole lot of Grade A scoring chances.. And while it’s true the Habs couldn’t score a third goal to put Buffalo away (same issue the previous night in New Jersey prior to a bogus major penalty call) before the Sabres tied the game, I would hope that fans, after their prerequisite bitching and moaning over a loss, came to appreciate the fact that they witnessed one of the best goaltending duels in the NHL this season.
Robin Lehner has always had the tools to be a difference maker. That’s never been in question. His issues have been his brain – too easy to rattle and highly combustable. After getting yanked by coach Dan Bylsma in his previous start, Lehner was locked-in and focused. And the Sabres forwards picked it up a couple of notches after getting badly outplayed in the second period. Remember – this is a team that won 7 games and lost 14 without Jack Eichel and have averaged a full goal per game more when he’s in the line up. Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane (one of the best games I’ve seen him play in Montreal) and Ryan O’Reilly form the nucleus of an up and coming dangerous offense. And one that seemed to catch the Habs napping over the final 20 minutes.
- Carey Price. “Outstanding” was how Michel Therrien described his goaltender’s performance. Saved his team a point with three successive great saves in the final 30 seconds capped by a miraculous glove grab of a Rasmus Ristolainen shot with just six seconds to play. But he was forced into difficult saves all night. It took a perfect shot off the goalpost for Buffalo to win. I’m certain he didn’t lose sleep over the fact that it was a blocker side blast by Zach Bogosian.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Playing exceptionally well. Beauty of a goal in so many ways to open the scoring. He started the play in his own end and finished it with a goal scorers’ touch. Difficult to understand why he played less than 12:00, especially when he’s been averaging 13:45.
- Paul Byron. Found the net again with his shots after a couple of off games. Took Lehkonen’s pass and smartly moved to the middle of the ice to take his shot which forced Lehner into a pad save. Lehkonen deposited the rebound upstairs where not enough Montreal shooters went.
- Phillip Danault. Not a great follow up night for the top line but Danault’s deflection gave him 10 goals for the season – all at even strength. Not that it really means much but if you’re still wondering about it – in 41 games for the Flyers this season Dale Weise has 2 goals and 3 assists.
- Mark Barberio. Another good effort for a guy who is currently Montreal’s 5th defenseman but often looks better than their #4 guy.
- Penalty Kill. Continued recent strong surge by killing off all three Buffalo power plays. Slowly moving back to the 80% mark (79.8).
- Second Period. Took control of the game while outshooting Buffalo 19-9.
- Alexandre Da Costa. Habs added a touch of class by having the Montreal violin virtuoso perform both anthems solo on his cool looking black violin. The crowd sing-a-long to Oh Canada was especially moving, hours after three million Americans took to the streets to protest their pathologically lying, egomaniacal, misogynist, petulant new president.
- Jeff Petry. Weird night for the Habs defenseman. Too soft around his net with too many give aways which led directly to Buffalo’s first goal by Brian Gionta. Made up for it by taking a Max Pacioretty pass and finding a shooting lane where Danault was able to deflect his shot past Lehner to give Montreal a 2-1 lead. Petry was forced to leave to leave the game for a bit after blocking a shot in the wrist area so maybe that bothered him but it didn’t affect his shot on the goal. Definitely struggled in his own end but he was hardly alone.
- Nathan Beaulieu. Much was made post-game about Beaulieu’s team leading 26:25 but Therrien explained it away by saying sometimes ice time is misleading when a guy gets stuck on the ice. Hmm.
- Tomas Plekanec. Cleanly lost critical face-off in his own end to Ryan O’Reilly which led to Cody Franson’s game tying goal through a screen with less than 8 minutes to play. Plekanec won just 4 of 16 face offs (25%).
- Alex Galchenyuk. Cleanly lost face off to Ryan O’Reilly in overtime moments after he was victimized by Lehner’s glove hand. Therrien might have been tempted to send somebody else out for the draw but as we saw O’Reilly doesn’t play favourites. He’s one of the best in the NHL at 58% – a weapon in 3 on 3. Galchenyuk also had issues in his own end – again. But still came within perhaps the save of the year of giving his team an overtime win with what would have been his 3rd goal in 5 games since returning from his knee injury. He’s fine.
Rick Jeanneret: “I’ve seen everything now… Robin Lehner, if you don’t get a standing ovation, YOU are getting robbed blind.” pic.twitter.com/1kfvhn2ks5
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 22, 2017
- Max Pacioretty & Alexander Radulov. Overall they were outplayed by Buffao’s best forwards.
- Torrey Mitchell & Brian Flynn. Normally play better against their former team. Mitchell lost his man in front of Price on the Gionta goal. Sabres just seemed hungrier for the puck in Montreal’s end.
- Andrew Shaw. Had a good chance to bury Buffalo late in the second period with a wrist shot from his off wing but couldn’t beat Lehner. Impressive Bo Jackson impression after the save as he broke his stick in half over his thigh. Following the loss to Pittsburgh at the Bell Centre Shaw lamented that not enough guys “played dirty”. With Brendan Gallagher out of the line up, it’s even more important for Shaw to get in Lehner’s face more often than he did on this night. Something to file for Buffalo’s next visit to Montreal on the 31st.
- Third Period. If not for Price the Habs would have been run out of their own building. Maybe they thought their impressive second period was enough to close out Buffalo but the Sabres came out strong in the third and never let up with a ferocious and relentless attack. They played like it was a brand new game – finishing every check with a purpose. At one point, Franson hit Pacioretty so hard into the boards (cleanly) it forced the Habs captain to immediately head to the bench. Sabres doubled up on Montreal in shots 14-7 but were even more dominant than those numbers would suggest. They kind of beat the Habs at their own game – saving their strongest play for later in the game while relying on lights-out goaltending to keep them in.
“Those saves by Carey Price at the end of the 3rd were average, period.” pic.twitter.com/qLYkiChxBB
— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) January 22, 2017