GAMEDAY: Habs visit Sabres on the 394th day of the 99th year of their existence

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The Habs are in Buffalo tonight, as they prepare to face the league's best goaltender, Ryan Miller, and his troupe of Sabres.

We'll get to the game in a second, but first a few notes about the site and some upcoming blogs.

I'll admit that my game preview won't be as comprehensive as it normally is today. I'm saving myself for a fairly lengthy and in depth feature before tomorrow's centennial game, and I don't want to get too much into it today. Also, expect at least one other blog from me today, as the Chicago Blackhawns are set to announce the contract extentions of several players, and that's obviously something that's going to need some analysis once the contract numbers are revealed. So, expect that later in the day on TCL.

Also, I still have three divisions to cover for my fantasy hockey injury breakdown (no pun intended). Sunday night, we covered the Northwest Division, followed by the Northeast Division the next night, and the Central Division on Tuesday. Took a little break yesterday as there were a few extra injuries to cover since the crazy night in the league on Monday. With a packed couple of days of blogs coming from me and the other TCL bloggers, I admit I might put off the next 3 divisions (Southeast, Pacific and Atlantic, in that order) until the weekened where I can spend more time detailing them. Once they're all up and posted, we'll do a recap/summary of the whole thing and detail the most important injuries in the entire league.

On one last site note. I'd like to thank everyone who's allowed TCL to have a record last couple of weeks, as we've been well over 100 hits every day since last Sunday. It's modest, but good considering we've only been up and running since mid September, and started basically from scratch. We've also broken our own daily records 5 times in the last two weeks, including a current 3 day streak where the site has done record numbers, culminating with 175 visitors yesterday! I know I probably jinxed it, but I hope you guys can help us continue our streak and break 200 hits in a day by next week!

So thanks for visiting the site and supporting us lowly hockey fans. I'd also like to thank all of our incredible bloggers who have helped make it happen, and whether you're a fan of the teams they cover or not, I hope you do read their blogs, because they do some phenomenal work and offer great insight into their teams, wehther you're a fan of them or not.

Anyway, enough about the site, on to tonight's game...

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TOUGH CHALLENGE IN BUFFALO

Before the season started, many had the Buffalo Sabres fighting for a playoff spot or well out of the playoffs. Feeling they hadn't made any significant improvements over the team that missed the playoffs last year, the ''experts'' didn't see the Sabres as playoff contenders, in any way. However, these so-called experts were ignoring the most important factor...

A healthy Ryan Miller makes the Buffalo Sabres all that much better. You may argue that miller only missed 13 games last season, but when you consider that the Sabres were only one win away from knocking the Canadiens out of the playoffs, you can't even argue that if Miller hadn't missed those 13 games, the Sabres would be in the playoffs. Even if Miller only played 5 or 6 of those games, the Sabres would have made it in.

Miller is that good. He makes his team that much better, and it shows. In 21 games played this season, he has a .937SVP (best in the league), an astounding 1.84GAA (easily the best in the league), 15 wins (tied for 2nd) and 3 shutouts (tied for 1st). He's the Sabres leader, their best player, their franchise player. Currently sitting in 5th place in the east, with 32 points (1 behind the division leading Bruins, who have played 3 more games), if Miller stays healthy, the Sabres will be a strong underdog come playoff time.

I know we've seen the Sabres play the Habs before, but it can't be stressed enough how dangerous this team can be, how exciting they can be, and how solid they are in every position. I'm a believer in the Sabres this year, and as a Habs fan, it scares me.

The Habs and Sabres faced off once on October 3rd in Buffalo, where teh Habs edges Buffalo 2-1 in overtime on a Brian Gionta game winner.

More on the Sabres by Habs Inside/Out contributor Steve Kerley here.

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TOUGH CHALLENGE IN BUFFALO

While it's easy to sing the praises of the Sabres, for the Habs... not so much. We've covered how much they've been affected by injuries, and that's fair, but there comes a point where the excuses have to spot. I don't understand what stops this team from working hard. It doesn't matter who's coaching them, how many players they've shipped out of town, how many new players they bring in, the Habs constantly have a problem with consistency, with hard work, and with performances that merit their salaries.

On Tuesday night, the Habs were out-worked and out-hustled by a team that shouldn't be nearly as good as them. And no offense to Leafs fans, but they aren't good. They do, however, get worked to the bone every game by Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, and as a result, they almost constantly play over their heads, no matter who's in the line-up, no matter what injuries they have, no matter what.

But the Habs always find some excuse not to work hard. If it isn't injuries, it's bad changes. If it isn't bad changes, it's the coach. If it isn't the coach, it's the GM. Well, I don't know what's wrong with this team. I try to be as plugged in as possible, follow the Habs as closely as possible and watch each game as closely as possible, but I can't explain it or excuse it anymore. They're simply not working. Is it a coaching issue? How could it be? Is it a player issue? I thought that was the problem BEFORE they got rid of 11 guys! Is it a GM issue? Possibly.

But frankly, if I HAD to pick one, I would simply have to go with organizational culture, that had bread of team of lazy players, that has branded a team of players in a city where the fans are going to follow them no matter what, even if they boo them once in a while. Hopefully, with Geoff Molson in charge, this huge problem can change. But it's clear that it is a problem, and that it can't be placed on the shoulders of a single player or single executive, or even just the fans. It isn't a coincidence that the Habs haven't won a cup in 16 years, and it isn't a coincidence that they haven't been able to remain competitive, no matter who they bring in, kick out, or keep.

Something's gotta change, and it's gotta change soon.

End rant.

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LINE-UPS, NOTES, STATS

Not much to report on the Habs from that isn't already known, since the team is out of town. We do know that Andrei Kostitsyn will be in the line-up tonight. Hal Gill is a healthy scratch tonight but he'll probably play tomorrow. Pouliot isn't quite there yet, neither is Gionta. Hamrlik didn't practice yesterday, but it sounded more like a therapy day.

Yesterday's practice lines:

Cammalleri - Plekanec - A. Kostitsyn
Pyatt - Gomez - White
Pacioretty - Metropolit - Moen
D'Agostini - Lapierre - S. Kostitsyn

Spacek - O'Byrne (Hamrlik)
Gill (Gorges) - Mara
Gorges (O'Byrne) - Bergeron

Halak in between the pipes, confirmed by RDS.

I'll have more as the news breaks during the course of the day, but for now, here are tonight's key stats, a little more detailed than what I normally put up:

-- HABS SABRES
Goals: Cammalleri (12) Vanek (8 )
Assists: Plekanec (19) Connolly(15)
Points: Plekanec (25) Connolly (21)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+9) Tallinder (+7)
Time on Ice: Hamrlik (24:46 per game) Myers (21:52 per game)
PIMs: Mara(39) Kaleta (52)
Shots: Cammalleri(95) Hecht(68)
SVP: Price (.909) Miller (.937)
GAA: Halak (2.62) Miller (1.84)
Wins: Price (7) Miller (15)
Injuries: Markov (ankle, end of december)
Gionta (foot, week-to-week)
Pouliot (wrist, day-to-day)
Laraque (suspension)
Gaustad (knee, indefinitely)
Rivet (knee, day-to-day)
Last 10: 4-4-2 6-3-1
Standings: 12-13-2, 12th, 26 points 15-7-2, 5th, 32 points
GF/GA: 66GF, 29th / 79GA, 18th 66GF, 20th / 55GA, 4th
PP/PK %: 17.1%, 24th / 79.6%, 15th 19.8%, 18th / 85.2%, 3rd

FINAL PREDICTION: Sabres 3 - Habs 1

LINKS:

- Yvon Pedneault on Guillaume Laparesse in Minnesota at Corus Sports.(french)

- TSN Game story.

- Habs I/O Game story.

- RDS game story, Halak confirmed in nets. (french)

- Sibling Rivalry Goes Hollywood by the Gallofs at Hockey Independent. Hilarious stuff!

More to come,

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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