Game 13: Habs @ Sabres + LIVE BLOG!
The Canadiens will look to get out of their slump as they travel to Buffalo to face the slumping Sabres tonight, at 7:30PM (RDS, TSN-Habs, plus live blog right here on TCL!) .
For the first time this season, the Canadiens have lost two games in a row, against Florida on Saturday night (3-1 loss) and in Columbus Tuesday night (3-0 shutout). By the scores listed above, you can tell that the Habs biggest problem seems to be scoring goals. The Canadiens currently rank 26th in the league for goals per game, tied with Toronto and Columbus with 2.42 goals per game. What's worse, they have the 29th ranked powerplay in the league at an abysmal 7.1%, ahead of only the lowly New Jersey Devils and OVER 20 percentage points behind the first place Vancouver Canucks.
Argue about defense all you want, and allowing three goals a game isn't going to get you anywhere either, but scoring one, or no goals per game isn't going to win you any games either. We all know defense wins championships, but in front of those defensemen and goaltenders are forwards that need to score goals. And for the Canadiens, the issue is definitely not defense, despite the massive campaign to get at least one change on the blueline (sit Spacek, damnit!). The problem is clearly with the Canadiens' top line forwards, that have seemingly hit a wall in the last couple of weeks.
SHUFFLING THE DECK
After a hot start, the line of Plekanec - Cammalleri - Kostitsyn has significantly slowed down, and at least one player (Kostitsyn) looks to be making his way off that line tonight. Although it's likely to get the next set of under-performing forwards going, clearly coach Jacques Martin's decision was made easier by the fact that despite leading the Canadiens in scoring, Kostitsyn has gone three games without a point now. And in a decision that will please many fans, Lars Eller will finally be getting his chance on the top six, taking Kostitsyn's spot alongside Cammy and Pleks on the first trio. Look for Eller to plant his nose right in front of the net every chance he gets, with Cammy around the faceoff circle and Plekanec feeding them both passes.
The line that Kostitsyn will likely be moving to is with Gomez and Gionta, who have but a goal and two assists each this season. We've documented in great detail how the lack of a proper left winger on that line hasn't benefited the former Devils duo at all, a revolving door that has included Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt, Travis Moen and others; not exactly awe-inspiring offensive threats. Martin will try to tap into the apparent magic that Kostitsyn found early in the season to get his higher-paid forwards finally going. Hopefully, it will mean that Gionta will go back to where he has had the most success this season, in terms of scoring goals, right in front of the net, with Kostitsyn cycling and Gomez breaking into the zone. And in the end, it's starting to get right on the shoulders of Gomez. Gionta's been shooting, and you could argue that Gomez would have more points if Gionta would find the back of the net, but it seems as if the level of compete simply hasn't been there with Gomez. While I suggested a demotion for Gomez in my blog yesterday, I would be more than happy with being proven wrong by the Alaskan tonight in Buffalo.
There will also be two changes on defense, as the tandem that won games for the Canadiens in last year's playoffs - despite what the Halak pundits will tell you - will be broken up after a couple of bad games. Hal Gill will try to use his experience to settle down PK Subban, who will try to counter-balance gill with his speed, and in a tandem I have only dreamed about, Andrei Markov will be paired up with Josh Gorges. Of course, Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek will remain together, and I will likely almost jump off a bridge several times tonight.
The full Canadiens line-up will look like this, if the lines at practice hold up:
Eller - Plekanec - Cammalleri
Kostitsyn - Gomez - Gionta
Pouliot - Halpern - Darche
Moen - Pyatt - Lapierre
Markov - Gorges
Gill - Subban
Hamrlik - Spacek
With Price looking to bounce back from two straight losses.
We're likely to see Michael Cammalleri on the point during the powerplay again, but hopefully that will change to the right choice - Tomas Plekanec - at some point during the game. Cammalleri's shot is best served closer to the net, which seems like it should be a given.
The biggest news out of Sabres camp right now is the injury to goaltender Ryan Miller. The defending Vezina trophy winner has what's been described as a tight knee, and rumors have been circulating that Miller has actually been feeling discomfort since training camp in September. Miller has missed one game so far, and looks to be out this weekend as well as he didn't practice in the team's morning skate.
Quebec native Patrick Lalime, a relative Habs killer at 17-8-3 against the Canadiens over his career, will look to become the fourth French Canadian goaltender to defeat the Habs this season. The 36-year-old will be backed up by Jhonas Enroth, 14 years his junior.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is hoping for a miracle, even with the added benefit of a Quebecois in goal. Incredibly, the Sabres are actually winless at home, going 0-5-1 so far this season at HSBC arena. This is good news for the Canadiens, 3rd place in the East, who are 4-2-0 on the road. But with the Sabres getting desperate to come out of the bottom of the east (tied with Florida for last place with only 8 points and a 3-8-2 record), and the Canadiens' recent struggles, it certainly isn't a sure thing for the Habs. Miller's absence might not even be a determining factor tonight.
The Sabres leading scorers include Derek Roy (6 goals and 13 points), followed by Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford with 8 points each. Rookie Tyler Ennis has had a decent start with 7 points in 13 games, but has gone pointless in four games now. Thomas Vanek has been an absolute disaster with only 4 goals and 7 points in 13 games, and Captain Craig Rivet has actually been a healthy scratch for two of the last three games. On a positive note, Paul Gaustad leads the league in the faceoff circle with a 65.9 percentage, but otherwise, the Sabres have little to nothing going for them.
Nevertheless, it should still be an interesting and fun game, as they always are when the Sabres face off against the Habs. Puck drop is at 7:30, and we'll be with you for the pre-game show on our LIVE BLOG starting at 7:15, so be there!
Also, tune in to TCL this weekend, as the newest addition to the TCL team, Iain Carnegie, and myself, will be welcoming Rosalyn Roy and Scott Schmidt to the inaugural TCL Habs Panel! It's going to be a lot of fun, and we're going to address several Habs questions, so look out for that as well!
Until then, enjoy the game, and see you tonight!