Rabid Habs

Game Day Preview: Habs vs. Sabres

And so it begins.

After a summer of scrutiny, doubt, and change, Marc Bergevin’s vision for this team will now take centre stage. The first test of the year will be a road tilt against the up and coming Buffalo Sabres, with a familiar face behind enemy lines looking to make his former team pay.

The Match-Up

Here’s how each team finished the 2016-17 regular season:

Montreal Team Buffalo
47-26-9 (103 pts) Record 33-37-12 (78 pts)
226 (16th) Goals For 201 (25th)
200 (4th) Goals Against 237 (20th)
19.57% (13th) Powerplay 24.46% (1st)
81.12% (14th) Penalty Kill 77.64% (25th)

 

Buffalo is a team on the rise. With Jack Eichel locked up in Buffalo for the next nine years, and an improving supporting cast around him, the Sabres look to take big steps in the right direction this year. Under new head coach Phil Housley, the Sabres will want to play a more up-tempo game, and activate their defense as much as possible. If the Sabres powerplay has any mojo left from last year, the Habs will need to stay out of the box.

Montreal looks to improve on their offensive woes from last season, as they had the 4th worst offense of teams to make the playoffs last year. The Habs special teams were also “middle of the pack,” and with the amount of penalties we’ve seen across the NHL this preseason, Montreal’s powerplay and penalty kill units could get a workout early on.

Lineups

A somewhat retooled Sabres blue-line will make its debut tonight, as a familiar face will play his first home game in blue and yellow. Nathan Beaulieu will start the season as the Sabres top left-handed defenseman on the team’s top paring with Rasmus Ristolainen. Former Montreal Canadien and Maple Leaf hold-out Josh Gorges will not play tonight.

Up front, the Sabres have a good spread of young talent and capable veterans. Overall, the team lacks serious scoring depth, so look for the top two lines to do most of the heavy lifting on offense, especially while getting last change on home ice.

We’ve talked about Montreal’s lineup for days. You probably have it memorized. In case you haven’t, here’s how they’re projected to look tonight against the Sabres:

19 year-old Victor Mete will skate alongside Shea Weber at even strength, but it’s important to keep in mind that he’s only a teenager and will get “physically destroyed” by competition. I kid. Pierre doesn’t though. Anyway, the only regular defenseman missing is David Schlemko, who was put on the IR to give Montreal an extra roster spot. When he returns, expect Mark Streit to go to the press box and one of Brandon Davidson or Joe Morrow to be put on waivers. There isn’t a ton of confidence in this defensive core heading into the season, as a prominence of depth comes at the absence of top end skill. If Mete can fill the latter, things might be ok.

Up front, the Habs look like a much deeper team than in past years. All four lines seem to have some degree of scoring punch, and the centre situation is as good as it’s been since Saku Koivu left.

Jacob De La Rose solidified his roster spot at the end of camp, sending Torrey Mitchell to the press box. In the last preseason game, the Danault line seemed to catch fire a bit with Galchenyuk and Shaw finding some chemistry. That line is the “second” line on the depth chart, but the Habs really have a 2A, 2B situation with the skill on the Plekanec line. Charles Hudon will look to make his mark on this team as a regular for the first time in his career.

The Habs powerplay will look for more firepower tonight, as the first unit will ice four forwards with Shea Weber. Jonathan Drouin will centre the unit with Hemsky to his left and Galchenyuk to his right, while Pacioretty quarterbacks the powerplay from the point.

Oh yeah, goalies.

Carey Price. Robin Lehner.

Ok, I’ve talked enough. Enjoy the game, everyone!

Game Time: 7:00 PM EST

Radio: TSN690

TV: TSN-2, RDS, MSG-B (Buffalo), NHL.tv

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