Montreal 2 Buffalo 3 SO (HSBC Arena)
Two steps forward. One step back.
A week ago, we were talking about the Canadiens winning six games in a row. More recently, they have lost three straight.
Tonight’s loss was the most traumatic for the players and their fans. Some will describe this as a colossal collapse for the Habs in the last two minutes of the game after playing a terrific game. I’m not so sure.
While the Canadiens looked good at times in the game, the style of play was not similar at all to the formula used during the winning streak. Tonight, it was back to special teams and goaltending.
While winning, the Canadiens were very effective at limiting shots on goal by the opposition. Since February 4, the Habs have only allowed 40 shots once. That was on March 4 in the game against San Jose with Carey Price in goal.
Tonight, Price faced 42 Sabres shots. And it was a shooting gallery. From mid-way in the second period, the Canadiens were outshot 31-to-12. A very confident-looking Price was turning everything away.
With the Sabres pressing, the Canadiens were on their heels employing a single man forecheck with four players dropping back to clog up the neutral zone.
The boost in Buffalo offense came in the second period after Sabres coach Lindy Ruff made a strategic move. After the Canadiens had been recipients of the game’s first four power-plays, Ruff went to work on the officials, berating them at every opportunity.
Buffalo was not assessed another penalty. Referees called six straight penalties on the Canadiens including four-minutes to Benoit Pouliot.
Montreal’s penalty-killers very effectively turned away the Buffalo power-play on five of six opportunities. But it was on the sixth, that Ruff once again made an excellent tactical decision.
With more than three minutes remaining, Ruff pulled goaltender Ryan Miller giving his team a 6-on-4 advantage. Josh Gorges was outmatched in front of the net, and a wide open Tim Connolly gave the Sabres hope.
With the Habs reeling, fans looked to Canadiens’ experienced bench boss to counter with a move or two of his own to preserve the win.
Would Martin call a time-out to settle his team down? No.
Would he send out Andrei Markov and Ryan O’Byrne, his top defensive pair? No.
Would the coach be sure to have his best defensive forwards on the ice? No.
Inexplicably, coach Martin deployed Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri with Tomas Plekanec. Cammalleri is not strong in his own end when in peak form. This being Cammalleri’s first game back after being on injured-reserve, he looked out of gas in the third period.
With Cammalleri failing to clear the puck and then both he and Roman Hamrlik struggling with coverage, Paul Gaustad got the tying goal only a short time after Price made a miraculous save on Jason Pominville.
Martin’s coaching blunders and some undisciplined play spoiled many fine performances, most notably, a statement game from Carey Price. He looked big in the net, moved nimbly and handled the puck well. Price did his job towards earning a shut-out.
Andrei Kostitsyn had two goals and proved he can be a sniper with complimentary linemates.
Sergei Kostitsyn and Tom Pyatt were excellent especially when penalty-killing.
Dominic Moore and Jaroslav Spacek both played well against their former team.
Once again, this team is much better without Maxim Lapierre in the lineup.
“Carey gave us a strong game, and you’d like to win that game, but the penalties made it difficult for us,” coach Martin said. “What you’ve got to learn from that is the penalties cost us.”
Yes, penalties and poor coaching.
The Canadiens must regroup and be ready for their next game on Thursday night when the Florida Panthers visit the Bell Centre.
Rocket’s three stars
1. Tim Connolly
2. Carey Price
3. Andrei Kostitsyn
special mention: Tom Pyatt, Dominic Moore
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
(photo credit: Reuters)
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