Quick Hits: Sabres at Canadiens

Sabres-Canadiens

After a week off for the All-Star Break, the Buffalo Sabres were back to game action in Montréal against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

A week off was a benefit for a few Sabres skaters who were out of the lineup with injury. Sam Reinhart, Nicolas Deslauriers and Josh Gorges all made their return to the ice. Reinhart had missed the past three games with an upper-body injury. Deslauriers missed the past eleven games with a broken bone in his foot. Gorges returned after re-aggravating an upper-body injury a few games back.

As for Montréal, the team could use Carey Price in the net as they have been on a colossal collapse. The Canadiens have lost seven of its last eight games, and had lost on Tuesday night to the Flyers in Philadelphia. At one point this season, the Canadiens were the best team in the National Hockey League when Price was in net. Since Price has been injured with a lower-body injury, Montréal has fallen out of the playoff race and now sit five points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

For the Canadiens, a win would break their slump and maybe get the team back on track. For the Sabres, a win would separate the Sabres from 30th place in the NHL standings just a little bit more.

But once again, the Canadiens would suffer a third period collapse and fall 4-2 to the Sabres.

The Sabres did not take long to get on the board first as Marcus Foligno found the back of the net. The play began when Cody Franson lightly flipped the puck into the Montréal zone for a line change. Zemgus Girgensons continued to pursue the puck, and was able to catch Jeff Petry off guard with a takeaway. Girgensons then found Foligno all alone in front of the net and Foligno put it through the five-hole of Canadiens goalie Mike Condon for his fourth goal of the season.

With Foligno’s first period goal, the Canadiens have given up the first goal of the game for the 15th time in the last 21 games. Not good numbers for a team trying to break out of a very bad slump.

Buffalo went into the first intermission with the 1-0 lead and had more shot attempts in the period, even though the Sabres were out-shot 12-11 by the Canadiens.

Johan Larsson got into penalty trouble a little over two minutes into the second period with a hooking call. On the same powerplay, Dale Weise tied the hockey game as he was left all alone alongside of the net.

About eight minutes later, Alex Galchenyuk gave Montréal its first lead of the evening. Galchenyuk took the puck off the faceoff, beat Ryan O’Reilly to the net, and put the puck through the five-hole of Sabres goalie, Robin Lehner.

The Sabres rebounded nicely from the Galchenyuk goal, but were unable to tie the hockey game after two periods. Evander Kane had a chance on a breakaway but Condon stopped Kane’s opportunity. Buffalo evened up the shot total through two periods, but were producing the majority of chances.

The Canadiens had a 16-2-1 record when leading after two periods going into the third period of this game, but with the recent struggles of the Canadiens it seemed like Montréal was just barely hanging on.

The Sabres would get a powerplay with 13-minutes left to go in the third period when Tom Gilbert tripped up Larsson in behind the net. Just 34-seconds into the two-minute advantage, Rasmus Ristolainen would pitch a perfect pass in front of the net for Jamie McGinn. McGinn would put a perfect re-direction in the net for his eleventh goal of the season.

The Sabres were not done there, as 4:12 later, it was Larsson that put the Sabres back up on top. After a Franson shot that was turned off to the right of Condon, Jake McCabe pinched up from the point to make a play with the puck. McCabe threw the puck towards the net and Larsson kept his stick down to re-direct it into the net for just his second goal of the season.

Larsson’s goal deflated the Canadiens, and took the crowd completely out of the game and it showed. The Canadiens tried to get the puck on Lehner, but he turned aside all 14 shots he faced in the period.

Former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta would put the nail in the coffin as he netted the empty-net goal with 12.1 seconds left in the game. The Sabres have now won two games in a row, and has handed Montréal its eighth loss in the last nine games.

Now, time for the quick hits!

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    • Larry does it again

It took Johan Larsson 28 games to finally net his first goal of the 2015-16 season, and it was a huge goal at the time. That goal was the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on December 14.

On Wednesday, Larsson scored just his second goal of the season, but it still had the same impact as his first goal back in December. Larsson’s goal in the third period against the Canadiens ended up being the game-winning goal to propel the Sabres to another win.

Larsson finished Wednesday’s game with his goal, four shots, five hits, a penalty, and a plus-1 rating in 14:01 of total ice-time.

Larsson has been playing well lately, and has been rewarded with more ice-time. Larsson has been playing with more of an edge to his game, and has been putting more pucks to the net and creating more chances.

If Larsson can continue his strong play, his ice-time and product on the ice is only going to get better and better.

    • Lehner continues strong play in net

It has been a nice return to the net for Robin Lehner since his high ankle sprain suffered in the first game of the season.

While it took a few games to finally get a win, Lehner now has two straight wins in Buffalo blue and gold. In six games played this season, Lehner now has a 2-3-0 record with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .938 save-percentage.

Over the past four games, Lehner has faced 150 shots and has turned away 142 of them, including 33 saves on 35 shots faced on Wednesday. Those totals are good for a .947 save-percentage, even though he has only won two of those games.

On Wednesday, Lehner looked good especially in the third period as he was positionally sound and was cool, calm, and composed in the net. Lehner has had a huge impact in both of Buffalo’s most recent wins with his strong play in the nets in the third period.

Buffalo has had its success in net for many years dating back many years. Hopefully Lehner can continue his success in net and become on of Buffalo’s next solid netminders for many years to come.

    • Foligno fits in nicely with Jack and Zemgus

Marcus Foligno on a line with Jack Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons? Sounds crazy to think, but it worked on Wednesday night in Montréal.

With the recent string of injuries, Foligno found himself on a line with Brian Gionta and Johan Larsson for a few games. While that line had its run of success, head coach Dan Bylsma is always continuously changing the line combinations.

Foligno adds a nice touch of physicality, while Eichel and Girgensons combine for the playmaking and goal scoring on that line. But it was Foligno who put the puck in the back of the net on Wednesday, as he netted his fourth goal of the season thanks a nice play by Zemgus,

Foligno now has eleven points on the season in 45 games, and could put up more production while playing with Eichel and Girgensons. It would be a nice turn-around for Foligno who had a slow start to the 2015-16 season.

    • Time for change in Montréal?

Things could not be any more uglier in Montréal than it is for the Canadiens right now.

Back on Thanksgiving, the Canadiens were on top of the NHL standings but had just found out that Carey Price will be out of the lineup for a few weeks.

Since then, Price has suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery, and the Canadiens have fallen off the map. Montréal has just seven wins in the 29 games since Price went down, and are currently sitting five points out of a playoff spot with just 30 games left in the 2015-16 season.

Having Price certainly does not help, but the inconsistencies on offense and the defense not living up to expectations does not help either. To trade for a scoring forward may cost the Canadiens more than what they already have, and young depth defensemen are not at a premium right now.

If the Canadiens have to start somewhere in the organization for change, it has to be with general manager, Marc Bergevin. The way he has built the team has not worked out, and it clearly shows when Price is out of the lineup.

Right now, things are not going to get better in Montréal and it is only going to get worse and worse. The Canadiens better figure something out, and fast.

Blow It Up

Written by Brayton Wilson

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