Montreal Canadiens: Thoughts On Habs First Clash With Sabres

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 07: Justin Barron #52 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 07, 2023 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 07: Justin Barron #52 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 07, 2023 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens got their first glimpse of Buffalo Sabres 2023 first-round selection Zach Benson, who made the team during his first training camp. The Sabres should make for a great competitive matchup, with their two stud blueliners, and their Tage Thompson-led offence. Jake Allen faces Eric Comrie in the goaltending duel.

It should be a great measuring stick to compare the Habs rebuild to where the Sabres are in theirs. Certainly, they should look better and stronger, considering they have had plenty of high draft picks, and each position has benefitted from the draft. From Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin to  Benson and Dylan Cozens to name a few.

Here’s a look at how the game played out.

First Period

Justin Barron opened the scoring against the Sabres with his first tally of the season. He activated at the right time, and put his great shot to use, sniping a shot past Comrie. Assists went to Arber Xhekaj and Sean Monahan.

The Canadiens were the first on the scoresheet, and they led in shots, with the Sabres still held to zero shots. There were plenty of chances in the opening six minutes, but it was mostly in the Habs’ favour. Until Brendan Gallagher took a penalty, the Habs were in the driver’s seat.

Momentum slipped from the Habs, and the Sabres wasted no time on the powerplay evening things up. Jeff Skinner beat Allen with a wicked shot. Shots are currently tied 3-3.

Peyton Krebs gave the Canadiens their first powerplay of the game with 5:08 left in the period. He hit Pezzetta from behind into the boards. The powerplay failed to get a shot on the net, but it helped the team find their legs.

Penalty trouble seemed to play a part in the first frame. The Habs took their second penalty of the game, it was a trip against Brendan Gallagher. But the penalty kill came in clutch, keeping things square at 1-1 heading into intermission.

Second Period

The first five minutes of the frame came and went. Johnathan Kovaecvic had a nice hip check, and Jake Allen robbed Cozens who received a nice pass from Thompson. But the game remained tied.

Arber Xhekaj got a penalty for roughing, but it was essentially him being bigger and stronger. The Canadiens are now up to three penalties on the night. Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson played pass on a two-on-one, and Pearson had a great chance for a shorthanded tally. Allen was the best penalty killer.

With 11:15 to go, the Sabres lead the Canadiens in shots 15-7. However, the score remains the same. Allen has stood tall in the crease.

Allen was the best Canadiens player through the first two periods. If not for his strong play, the game would look a lot different.

The Canadiens had another shot on the powerplay. While there were a ton of chances, there was nothing to show for it. It was a goaltending duel, and don’t let the Habs’ 12 shots fool you, they were mostly great opportunities to score.

Barron took a crosschecking penalty with under two minutes in the frame, and the Sabres faithful let out a collective cheer. Again Monahan and Pearson looked like a dynamic duo on the penalty kill. Allen continued to hold down the fort for the team to close out the middle frame.

Third Period

To start the period the Canadiens still had some penalty killing to finish up. Monahan and Pearson were a great pair on the kill. And they, along with Allen kept the game at one.

Brendan Gallagher did ‘Brendan Gallagher’ things, and on a night when his two linemates stood out, he cleaned up on their great work. He swiped a puck past Comrie after Pearson created the chance. The intelligence and poise of the veteran line is a great addition to the Habs’ top nine.

The top two lines were relatively quiet for the most part, through the first 45 minutes of play. If one of the two lines could find a spark, it could help the Habs pad their one-goal lead. Depth played a huge part in the game, but the top six are very capable of making an impact on the scoresheet.

Monahan took the Habs fifth penalty of the night, on a trip. The penalty kill will be without the best penalty-killing center, and arguably the best player on the PK. David Savard was in front of everything, making an inspired effort. Allen snagged a shot by Skinner to get a whistle.

Pearson and Nick Suzuki had a great shorthanded chance. The pair went in on a two-on-two, and Pearson made a great pass to Suzuki, who fired a quick wrister. Comrie was up to the challenge and kept his troops with one.

Michael Pezzetta had a beautiful opportunity, and while he didn’t capitalize on it, he drew a penalty. He seems to really bring his A game against the Sabres. Tonight he has had four hits and two shots.

The Habs were given a huge opportunity to ice the Sabres. Alex Tuch watched on nervously from the penalty box. Pearson got a sweet feed from Gallagher, who benefitted from a nice Alex Newhook pass and fired a shot past Comrie for a 3-1 lead.

With 1:40 to play, the Sabres pulled Comrie and played 6-on-5. They took a timeout at 1:27 to devise a plan, and Trevor Letowski prepared the Habs for the final moments of the game.

Both teams battled hard for the puck, and the Habs were 34.3 seconds away from a 3-1 win. Gallagher almost scored his second of the game on an empty net but missed. It did bleed out the clock, and Allen had another very strong outing.

Final Thoughts

Allen was the first star again, in my heart, after a very gutsy performance. Pearson and Monahan had strong games. And Juraj Slafkosvky, Alex Newhook and Cole Caufield had some great scoring chances.

The Habs will shift their focus to the next game, which will come on Tuesday night against Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils. Puck drop set for 7:15 p.m. from the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC.