The Montreal Canadiens are back at the Bell Center, and despite coming off 6 wins in 7 games on the road, they will now face a much tougher team than any of the 7 teams just faced in the Buffalo Sabres.
The Buffalo Sabres are currently tied for 2nd place in the Conference, and are actually tied for 4th in the NHL in points.
Ryan Miller is currently 3rd in the NHL in wins (22), 2nd in GAA with 2.08 and 1st in Save % with 0.932 (min 20 games played). However, Miller has been uncharacteristically cold lately, having given up 6 goals in his last 2 games, which including actually being pulled against the Penguins.
Buffalo leads the season series right now 2 - 1, and the Habs best scorer against the Sabres in Andrei Kostitsyn, is a game time decision.
The starting goaltender is also a game time decision, but it should be noted that only Carey Price has played well against the Sabres this season, with Halak allowing 10 goals on 64 shots in the last two meetings against Buffalo.
The Franchise 5 Keys to Victory
1 - Montreal needs to get the pressure on Miller. With the additional pressure to perform well since being named to the Team USA Olympic team, you have to figure that his recent poor play is weighing heavily on Miller's mind right now. Montreal has shown an ability to get their top 3 lines to put pressure on the opposing goalie, and they can't start being shy about it now that they are back at home.
2 - Use Maxime Lapierre to get to Tyler Myers. Sure, this young rookie is having a phenomenal season, but the Canadiens cannot forget the fact that Myers is still very young, and very much a rookie. The Canadiens still have the league's best power play, and they will need the man who should be their best agitator to break out of whatever funk he is in, and start agitating!
3 - Do not rest on your laurels! If the Canadiens do manage to get the lead, they need to continue to put pressure and attack. Buffalo has won their last 3 games, but all three required them to come from behind. Montreal is just brutal in letting teams equalize the score, which is why so many games have been required to go into OT (14). Only Dallas and the Islanders have gone into OT more this season (15).
4 - Control themselves! Montreal have improved and are no longer the most penalized team in the league, but they will still take way too many dumb penalties. Ryan O'Byrne is actually the worst offender against the Sabres with a total of 13 minutes. Buffalo may have the 24th ranked power play, but that doesn't mean that the Canadiens need to test their penalty killing team, who currently rank 9th.
5 - Something to prove! With Gionta and Gomez both being left off Team USA, it will be important that both of these players use that as extra motivation to continue their hot streaks. Gomez was already on a tear just prior to Gionta's return, but there is no question that his continued point spree has been helped with having a legit top 6 NHL forward to play with him on the same line. Gomez has 1 goal on 8 assist in his last 5 games, and is a +3, while Gionta has 1 goal and 3 assists in his last 3 games, while being a +2.