MONTRÉAL (LGS) — National Hockey League teams have every reason to fear the potent power play of the Buffalo Sabres. Now they’re going to have to start worrying about the goal-scoring prowess of the Sabres’ penalty killers, too.
Chris Drury scored a shorthanded goal, the team’s second in the last three games and the eventual game-winner, as the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at the Bell Centre on Monday night for their ninth straight win to start the season, a club record and just one shy of the NHL mark set by Toronto in 1993. Dating back to last spring, the Sabres have now won 14 straight in the regular season.
Even bigger than all that, the Sabres padded their lead over Montreal in the Northeast Division to eight points. To do so, they had to overcome just a bit of history. In 1975, the last time the Sabres stormed out to an 8-0 record, it was a loss in Canada, to the Leafs, that ended all the fun. Drury helped make sure history did not repeat itself.
With the Sabres leading 1-0 midway through the second period and Brian Campbell in the box for hooking, Drury stole the puck from Andrei Markov at the Buffalo blue line and broke down the left wing with Jochen Hecht off to his right. Drury skated just below the left dot and wristed the puck over the left glove of the butterflying Cristobal Huet, off the right post and into the net. With his 10th goal, Drury temporarily took over the league lead in goals.
Montreal came into the game with a criminal power play success rate at home, but the Sabres, whose road penalty killing was equally impressive, put the handcuffs on it. They killed off all four Canadien power plays, holding the Habs to no shots on goal on their first two tries. Their first shot with the extra man didn't come until the third period, when Ryan Miller sticked aside Sheldon Souray’s bomb from the right point, one of several timely stops.
Miller made 26 saves but lost another shutout bid halfway through the third period when a Toni Lydman giveaway led to Mike Johnson’s shot deflecting in off Henrik Tallinder, one more fluke goal against the Buffalo goaltender.
It was another weird goal that gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Jiri Novotny stepped over the Montreal line at the centerpoint and wristed a shot that went off the shoulder of the ducking Huet, deflected high in the air and flew south for the winter into the Montreal cage.
With the Sabres up 2-0, just a few minutes after Drury’s goal, Danny Briere fed Jochen Hecht on the doorstep, but Huet kept it a two-goal game. After the intervening commercial break, the same line launched into some serious forechecking, and this time Hecht fed Briere, who stepped out to the left hash mark and sent a turnaround shot that was tipped home by the crease-encroaching Jason Pominville to make it 3-0.
Leading 3-1, the Sabres had one final penalty to kill late in the third period after Thomas Vanek tripped Chris Higgins. After the Habs pulled Huet for a two-man advantage, a big save on Saku Koivu by Miller and big blocks by Teppo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin effectively secured the win before Kalinin found Vanek out of the penalty box for an empty net goal with 19 seconds to play.
One more way to score. One more win.
POSTGAME POWER PLAY
a two-minute read on the good old hockey game...
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
Marty Biron’s audition for host of QVC’s “Hockey Mask Hour” is hilarious. Hello out there! As for the game, it isn’t the Monday Night Party everyone is expecting. Only the reflexive twitching of Montreal’s corpse late in the game, and the Sabres’ pursuit of a record, keep this one interesting.
Jason Pominville sticks his nose in Cristobal Huet’s business and gets the business end of his stick on Danny Briere’s hard shot to put the Sabres up 3-0.
In the postgame celebration around Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad gives Pominville the business, punching him in the gut when he isn’t looking. Doesn’t Gaustad know that’s how Houdini died?
Chris Drury. Shorthanded goal changes the complexion of the game. And even when he makes a rare mistake, a turnover in the Montreal zone that leads to a two-on-one break the other way, he roars back and snuffs it out.
Alexei Kovalev. The noted Sabre-killer is quiet all night but finally gets his name in lights in the third period — for all the wrong reasons. First he boards Jiri Novotny to end just the third power play of the game for Montreal, then with the Habs on the board and thinking about a Buffalo-style charge from behind, he slashes Danny Briere over the right hand. And that smarts, something Kovalev on this night is lacking.
Dmitri Kalinin. Rush up ice late on a Montreal man advantage in the first period, key block with the Habs up two men late in the third and seeing-eye pass to Thomas Vanek for the clincher have Kalinin looking like this team’s best defenseman, for one game at least. Shorthanded ice time second only to Toni Lydman. Postgame Power Play Three Stars: 1. Chris Drury (goal, assist) 2. Jason Pominville (goal, +2) 3. Ryan Miller (26 saves) (Official stars at right)
For his second straight game, it’s another very early save for Ryan Miller as he presses his left pad into the fresh Bell Centre ice 49 seconds into the first and foils Brad Ryder from point-blank range. On Friday night, at the 27 second mark, it’s Miller robbing Eric Staal.
With Buffalo up 1-0 in the second period, Sheldon Souray’s scud from downtown Beirut rings the crossbar and flies high into the mesh. A few seconds later, Chris Drury’s shot chinks the right iron and goes in. The Hockey Gods are pleased.
On the Hot Seat
Buffalo’s penalty killers. Discipline helps a lot as the Sabres have to deal with only four Montreal power plays. Late in the first period, you sense it’s going to be another great night for The Unit as a lead pass for a breaking Adam Mair just misses, then Dmitri Kalinin walks in on a three-on-two break only to be denied by Cristobal Huet. Toni Lydman and Chris Drury lead the killers in ice time for defensemen and forwards, respectively. Verdict: Flying colors — midnight blue and maize.
The Burning Question
If Danny Briere gives the puck to a wide-open Andrew Peters in the slot, instead of Henrik Tallinder at the point, is this the night all of the planets align, including Uranus, and The Big Lug scores?
Crunching the Numbers
8 - Straight games Danny Briere has tallied at least a point
4 - Straight games with a Thomas Vanek goal
19 - Seconds to spare, this time
2 - Assists for Teppo Numminen
1 - Fantastic pass to Adam Mair in traffic at center ice in the third period
4 - Eyes that pass had
43.8 - Montreal's power play percentage at home before the game
0 - During this one
“But you know what happened.”
—Cristobal Huet’s final analysis on his first-period botch of Jiri Novotny’s wing and a prayer
In the Buffalo Wings
Garth Snow. Steve Shields. Thursday night. The rematch. OK, at least Snow will be there. He’s the general manager of the Islanders, the next opponent for the Sabres as they try to tie the record on Long Island.