Home sweet home, or maybe not. After a season-high seven game road trip to close out the calendar year, the Canadiens returned to the 'friendly' confines of the Bell Centre. It was the first home game since December 17.
After getting through the tough part of their schedule, 17 games in the month of December, the Habs had 39 games left with 22 at home. Seemingly, that should be a huge advantage for the Canadiens, especially in a year with a compressed schedule. But does it hold true for the Canadiens?
The Sabres win today marked the Canadiens fourth straight loss at the Bell Centre. The Habs are now 9-10-2 at home. Obviously, visiting teams are not intimidated to visit a building where the home team loses more than it wins.
It has been said that the impatience of the Bell Centre fans is one reason why the team plays differently at home. The disparity is most evident when reviewing the power play statistics. We know that the Canadiens have the best power-play in the league right now.
But look deeper and you will find that the No. 1 ranking is buoyed by numbers on the road where the Habs have a 33.9 percent efficiency. Contrast that to their 16.4 perceny success rate at home. The numbers at the Bell Centre place them 24th in the league.
To be fair, the power-play ranking has improved since the return of Andrei Markov. Today was his first game at the Bell Centre this season. The power-play home numbers should improve with him in the lineup. But as we witnessed today, there are other factors as the Habs were 0-for-2 with the man advantage.
Andrei Kostitsyn's was missed today on the power-play and five-on-five, especially his presence in front of the opposition goal. His linemates, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, were ineffective. Max Pacioretty was added, and while he has played well on the third line, success on the first line may be expecting too much.
So just as the Canadiens were getting healthy and finding secondary scoring, their primary scoring may have taken a hit.
“I thought we played a fairly solid game,” said Brian Gionta. “We had some good chances, but Miller is a good goaltender. You’ve got to get some traffic in front of him, and he saw too much.”
Miller and Carey Price were solid with each making 29 saves. The only goal of the game resulted from Josh Gorges getting caught up-ice and Benoit Pouliot getting back but not covering the goal scorer. Tim Connolly was left all alone and had time for a couple of shots for the goal.
The Canadiens played a good first period but Miller was the difference. Lindy Ruff made some changes at intermission and the Sabres played their system in the second. Correspondingly, the Habs stopped skating and forechecking. The Bell Centre crowd was church quiet. Surprisingly after the game, coach Jacques Martin described the atmosphere as "playoff intensity."
As the players will say, there are no moral victories nor any excuses for a loss. However, Georges Laraque, Paul Mara and Matt D'Agostini could not fill the holes in the line-up left by the absences of Andrei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Byrne, and Sergei Kostitsyn. In addition to missing Andrei Kostitsyn's offense, both Andrei and O'Byrne regularly lead the Canadiens in hits.
“It’s frustrating to lose, especially 1-0, but you’ve got to give those guys credit,” Price said. “They’re a good hockey team, they’ve got a good goalie, they believe in their system and that’s what they do to teams."
Do the Canadiens believe in Martin's system? That's an interesting question for another day.
As Price said, the Sabres are a good hockey team. They are better than any team the Canadiens faced on the road trip. It is the kind of team that the Canadiens should be able to use their home ice advantage to beat. It would seem that is a work in progress.
The Habs travel to Washington for a game against the Capitals on Tuesday night.
Rocket's three stars
1. Ryan Miller
2. Carey Price
3. Jason Pominville
Material from wire services was used in this report.