Montreal-Buffalo: Late Penalty Delivers Sabres Win in Battle of Attrition
Only 24 hours after defeating the Calgary Flames in Montreal, the Habs were back on the ice, this time in Buffalo against the Sabres.
The flu bug that has been ravaging the Habs' personnel lately kept Benoit Pouliot in Montreal, meaning that the other players needed to pick up the slack in their second game in 24 hours.
The first period was a strange one with the play going end-to-end, but a lack of goalmouth action. There wasn't a good deal of shots, or too many hits, and a bunch of cycling. Overall, just not too much offense being generated.
Unaffected by the strange atmosphere, Montreal got the party started when David Desharnais deflected his second goal of the season past Ryan Miller on the power play.
After that things got ugly really quickly for the Canadiens.
In the span of about 10 minutes, the Canadiens lost Michael Cammalleri, Max Pacioretty and Jeff Halpern to injury. Save Halpern returning in the second period, none of the three came back to play for the rest of the night.
Cammalleri was pushed into the boards from behind by Mike Weber resulting in a separated shoulder. Pacioretty took a James Wizniewski shot in the ribs and was taken to hospital by ambulance, and Halpern was boarded hard by Patrick Kaleta.
Despite the injuries, there was still a game to be played, and, until the second period, the Canadiens looked like they were in cruise control. But as the minutes began to pile up on the undermanned Habs squad, and the fatigue started kicking in, the Sabres took control of the game.
Despite the Sabres tying the game at one on a second period power play, Carey Price was there to make several spectacular saves to keep his team alive.
Buffalo started crashing Price's crease on a regular basis in an effort to get him off of his game during the second period. As a result, things started getting chippy as more and more post-whistle scrums ensued. That extra-circular activity culminated in a pseudo-wrestling match between Scott Gomez and 5'5" Nathan Gerbe at 16:33 of the third period.
But the turning point of the game was when, fresh out of the penalty box, Gerbe and Gomez got tangled up in the corner with Gomez taking a swing at the diminutive Sabre. Gomez didn't actually make contact with Gerbe, who played the victim role well, throwing his head back and holding his face as if he had been hit. But the referee took the bait, handing out a two minute minor to Gomez that straddled the end of the third period and the start of overtime.
Only 1:09 into the extra frame Jason Pominville took a sweet feed from Thomas Vanek in the slot and buried it behind Price for the win.
Final score: Sabres 2 - Habs 1 (OT)
Habs' scorers: David Desharnais (2)
Sabres' scorers: Tyler Ennis (11), Jason Pominville (9)
Three stars: 1. Tyler Ennis, 2. Ryan Miller, 3. Nathan Gerbe
The word this morning is that Michael Cammalleri has a separated shoulder. Without surgery, that type of injury usually requires four to six weeks to heal properly.
As for Max Pacioretty, fortunately, he was released from hospital last night and was well enough to charter back to Montreal with the rest of the team. There is no word on whether he will be out of the lineup come Friday against the Senators, but for now at least, this doesn't seem like anything major.
On the Jeff Halpern front, he has a shoulder injury which might be separated but it's still unclear. More testing is required before they can determine the full extent of the injury.
1. The Habs were decimated by injuries.
Just when the Canadiens were starting to get their motors running—they have won five of their last seven games—they were knocked down several pegs last night by the injury bug.
Michael Cammalleri was hit from behind and left the game with a separated shoulder, Max Pacioretty took a James Wizniewski slapshot in the chest and went to the hospital in an ambulance and Jeff Halpern went to the dressing room about 10 minutes into the game, came back for one shift and then left for the night suffering from an apparent shoulder problem.
In addition, Brian Gionta took a puck off the leg and was limping, P.K. Subban took a shot off the foot in the dying seconds of the first and limped to the bench, and Hal Gill had a hard time making it off the ice, limping to the dressing room once the game was over.
You've got to be kidding me!
I have never seen one team get so completely wiped out by injuries over the course of one game.
Now, however, the depth of the Canadiens' organization will truly be tested.
With two and possibly three open slots in the top three lines Montreal will have to look to their farm team or trade market to fill out their roster. Trading for a player or two becomes more likely if injuries to key players extend beyond a few weeks.
For a team that has had its share of ups and downs this season, they are about to face their biggest challenge of the year. How they deal with this adversity over the next 60 days will determine whether they make the playoffs or are on the outside looking in come April.
2. Carey Price stepped up when the team needed him to.
With Habs' players dropping like flies and Montreal holding a 1-0 lead, they needed Price to be their best player. And, true to form, Price delivered the goods especially in the third period when his teammates looked undermanned and overworked.
Not really tested in the first, Price stepped up when the team needed him to stop 16 second period shots, 11 in the third and 37 for the night.
Depending on the extent of the injuries to players like Cammalleri, Halpern and Pacioretty, the Canadiens could be without key offensive players going forward and for a team that struggles to score goals, things won't get any easier.
As such, the Habs will need Price to carry the team as he did during the first two months of the season, in order for them to stay in the playoff picture.
So, once again, it looks like the fate of the 2011 season sits firmly on Price's shoulders.
3. This is a game that Buffalo should have dominated.
With the injury and illness bug wreaking havoc on the Canadiens lineup, you would have thought this was a prime opportunity for the opposition to pour it on and bury the Habs early.
Unfortunately for Sabres fans, that didn't happen—at least not easily.
What did happen, however, was that Buffalo looked mostly emotionless and played with little to no intensity for most of the night. They had some shots on Price in the early going but very few quality scoring chances.
Unfortunately, Montreal got themselves into penalty trouble around the mid point of the second period, giving the Sabres a 5-on-3 and letting them back in the game. After that, the Canadiens' fatigue started to kick in and Buffalo began to control the play.
Up until that point, however, the Sabres didn't look very good at all.
Were it not for Gomez's foolish penalty in the dying seconds of the third period, this was a game that the Habs could and perhaps should have won, despite being out manned.
While there is no question that the Gomez penalty came on a weak call by the ref, as a veteran player Gomez should have known better. In the dying seconds of a game that you can still win despite being hindered by injuries, that was a horribly selfish play by the center. So much so, that Gomez took responsibility for his mistake after the game.
It's a good thing that the Habs still managed one point out of this contest but with the holes in their lineup, taking two would have obviously been a much better result.
Until Gomez took that penalty, there was still hope for Montreal.
4. The Habs don't have anyone who can take care of business.
Players like Patrick Kaleta—who is known to be a borderline dirty player—were running around all night taking liberties with the Canadiens.
Kaleta in particular, was often crashing the crease, pushing, hitting, slashing or otherwise disturbing the Habs' personnel after the whistle and mostly managed to avoid the penalty box.
He is a player who excels at pushing the limits without getting penalized and, unfortunately for the Canadiens, they didn't have anyone that was willing to put him in his place.
As a result, it seemed that the Sabres became more bold as the game went on. As such, they started crashing Price's crease on a regular basis in the second period and continued to do so for the balance of the game.
While players like Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and James Wizniewski delivered a myriad of shoves and face washes to Sabres' players, no one put them on their butt, dropped the gloves or in any other way did much to send a message that this kind of behaviour would not be tolerated.
As such, the Sabres kept on jabbing at the Habs' players making them more and more frustrated while trucking and running Price. This is ultimately what led Gomez to lose his cool on Gerbe at the end of the game, taking what ended up being a very costly penalty in the process.
While I am not an advocate of having a fighter a la Georges Laraque on the team, I am a proponent of having some tough-as-nails players who can play hockey and who are not afraid to drop the gloves.
Travis Moen is supposed to be that player for the Canadiens, but it has become clear that he either no longer wants to play that role or is unable to.
A lack of toughness was part of the Canadiens demise against the Flyers during the playoffs last year, and that's why I would have no problem calling up a player like Alex Henry, for example, to take up the position as the Habs' seventh defenseman.
That being said, Ryan White seems poised to be one of the first call-ups and he is a player who can play that role. Now that the Canadiens will be shorthanded, players like Tomas Plekanec will get that much more attention from the opposition, and the Habs will need a player or players like White to make room for their stars.
If the Canadiens are not able to find someone willing to do so, they are going to be in a world of hurt going forward.
5. Who gets the call?
Missing four regulars from his forward ranks, Jacques Martin patched together a lineup last night that looked a little something like this:
Andrei Kostitsyn - Tomas Plekanec - Lars Eller
Brian Gionta - Scott Gomez - Mathieu Darche
Travis Moen - David Desharnais - Tom Pyatt
If you thought that Habs had problems scoring before Cammalleri and Pacioretty went down to injury, just imagine how difficult it will be now!
But, as it is always the case in professional sports, the misfortune of some becomes opportunity for others. The Canadiens will likely look to players like Aaron Palushaj, Ryan White and maybe even Ben Maxwell to fill out the roster.
White seems like a logical choice to fill out the bottom-six, while Palushaj could be a good option to fill Cammalleri or Pacioretty's spots in the top-six.
The big question mark is what the Canadiens will do with Ben Maxwell.
As a center, there is no natural fit for him in the lineup unless Halpern is out of for an extended period of time. Even if he is out, however, the Canadiens might choose to use Eller as the third line center and bump Desharnais down to the fourth line with Palushaj taking Eller's spot on the top line.
The other option also depending on the length of the key absences from the lineup, is for Gauthier to go fishing in the free agent market.
Whatever happens and whoever is added to the lineup, the Canadiens will need Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta to pick up the slack in order to keep this party going. It will be up to them to carry this team offensively and if they can't get the job done, the Canadiens could be in trouble.
Good thing for Montreal that Benoit Pouliot (who I fully expect to get a spot in the top-six) is supposed to be back in the lineup come Friday!
Standings and Next Game
The overtime loss gives the Habs one precious point in the standings, which is a huge consolation prize in a game in which they showed tremendous character.
The Canadiens now have two days off to rest their walking wounded and further assess the damage to players like Cammalleri, Pacioretty and Halpern. Next up for the Canadiens are back-to-back Friday and Saturday games against the Senators and Ducks, respectively.
Friday's game is a huge four-pointer against a division rival while Saturday's match will see the return to Montreal of former Habs captain, Saku Koivu, for the first time in opposition colours.
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