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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Canadiens Game Day: Habs Kick Off Pivotal Week Against Buffalo Sabres

by Kamal Panesar

UPDATE - 11:22 AM As Per HockeyInsideOut.com, Carey Price left the morning skate early, favouring his right knee.

There is no word yet on his status for tonight's game

***
The Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres face off tonight at the Bell Centre in their sixth and final regular season matchup. The Canadiens have won the first three contests, with the Sabres pulling out extra time victories in the last two.

All but one of the games between these two teams has been decided by one goal with neither team scoring more than three in any match.

Both teams have struggled to string together victories lately playing win-one-lose-one hockey but Montreal is coming off of their most lopsided win of the season, an 8-1 beat down of the Minnesota Wild. The Sabres, on the other hand, will be looking to bounce back from a 4-3 OT loss to the Predators on Sunday.


Standings

Tonight's game kicks off Montreal's most important week of the season with three four-point matches—Boston on Thursday and Washington on Saturday. Montreal's performance this week could very well determine whether they finish in sixth overall or are able to leapfrog Boston into third.

The Habs are currently in sixth overall in the East with 87 points, two behind the Lightning and one behind the Bruins who have one and two games in hand respectively.

The Sabres, in contrast, are a team that has been out of the playoff race for most of the season. Buffalo has come charging back, however, to knock the Hurricanes out of the eighth and final spot in the East. Their hold on eight is tenuous though, with the Canes only three points back.

Ahead of the Sabres are the Rangers with 82 points and one more game to be played. A Buffalo victory tonight would put them only one back of New York for seventh overall in the East.


Goaltending

Carey Price will get his 65th start of the season tonight while looking to bounce back from a Friday night shellacking at the hands of the Rangers. Price was shelled for five goals on only 12 shots before being pulled in favour of Alex Auld.

For Buffalo, Ryan Miller will get his 16th start in the Sabres last 18 games and his 61st of the season.


Scoring and Special Teams

The Habs have the eighth best goals-against at 2.5 per game (185 total), seventh best power play at 19.5 percent, the 10th best penalty kill at 83.3 percent and the 20th best goals-for at 2.7 per game (200 total). The goals-for stat is skewed a little due to the Habs' eight goal outburst against the Wild on Sunday.

Buffalo has a stronger seventh overall goals-for at 2.9 per game (218 total) but a weaker goals-against at 2.9 per game (208 total), a 10th overall PP at 18.9 percent and the 16th overall PK at 82.4 percent.

As has been the case with all five games played so far this season, I expect another tightly contested, low-scoring game that could again be decided by one goal.


Roster Changes and Injuries

The Habs sent Aaron Palushaj back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs and recalled Andreas Engqvist in his place. There is no word yet on the lines that Jacques Martin intends on using, but given that Engqvist is a center and has been playing well in Hamilton look for some kind of mix-up down the middle.

Montreal continues to play without eight regulars: Brent Sopel, Jaroslav Spacek, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.

Buffalo has a few walking wounded that are day-to-day and could be back as soon as tonight: Jochen Hecht, Patrick Lalime and Patrick Kaleta. Derek Roy continues to be on the injured reserve due to surgery on his left quadriceps tendon.


Key to Victory

With an expected playoff-like intensity tonight this game will come down to which team makes less errors. Whichever team is able to keep their mistakes to a minimum while exploiting the opposition’s misgivings should be able to skate away with the victory.

Game time is 7:30 PM.

New Sunday Shinny - March 20, 2011

Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco, Amanda Stein and Kamal Panesar of HabsAddict.com welcome old friend Kevin Mio of HOCKEYInsideOut.com

Topics include:
-Interesting take on the coaching carousel that could take place next year, involving Kirk Muller, and current Juniors head coach Pascal Vincent
-Big debate on PK Subban, how he is looked at around the league, and the comments made by Vincent Lecavalier
-Another debate on Carey Price, if he should have started against New York, and what the Canadiens should have planned for him the rest of the way
-Quick round of if the Habs can catch the Bruins

NOTE: We had some technical difficulties so the podcast cuts out a few times. A thousand apologies!

Click play below to listen in (listing time 40:24):


(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)

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