The word on everyone’s lips, players and pundits:
The Sabres are in a despaerate fight for a playoff spot, and they played that way.
The Canadiens are in a more advantageous position … although a W would have kept them closer to Boston, heading into the Thursday showdown.
As it is, the Bruins beat another desperate team, New Jersey, to go three points up on the Canadiens with two games in hand. They have a chance to pretty much sew up the Northeast Division with a win on Thursday.
Hal Gill talked about “scratch and claw” hockey at this time of the season.
Brian Gionta said the Canadiens were “a step behind” the Sabres for most of the game.
Jacques Martin offered the most detailed analysis.
The coach said his team “didn’t go to the net with authority” to create traffic and scoring chances against Ryan Miller.
During the second period, Martin said, the Canadiens failed to get pucks deep behind the Buffalo defence and committed several neutral-zone turnovers against the Sabres’ disciplined – and, yes, boring – checking scheme.
The result was the Canadiens spending too much of the middle period in their own end.
And the result of that was fatigue and too many penalties.
Every Canadiens defenceman except Roman Hamrlik took a minor penalty of the step-behind-the-play variety: Hal Gill for tripping, P.K. Subban for interference, Paul Mara for cross-checking, Alexandre Picard for tripping, James Wisniewski for hooking.
Contrast this to Buffalo: Brad Boyes for tripping early in the first period, Thomas Vanek for dumping Carey Price – and negating a Buffalo power play – early in the second period.
That was it. Down the stretch, Buffalo played 37 minutes of penalty-free hockey: an indicator of their discipline but also of the Canadiens inability/unwillingness to press the play and force defenders into infractions.
The Canadiens have taken 332 minor penalties this season, second only to Pittsburgh’s 339. Buffalo is third, with 322. Again, the Sabres’ ability to stay out of the box was either a tribute to their discipline or an indicator of how easy it is to handle the Canadiens within the rules of the game.
As several players noted, the game typified late season/playoff hockey to a greater degree than the Canadiens loss at Madison Square Garden or their romp in Minnesota.
Those eight goals against the Wild were a week’s supply for this team.
• The Canadiens have been shut out seven times this season, three on home ice. Ryan Miller’s goose egg was the first laid on the Canadiens since Mikka Kiprusoff did it in the Feb. 20 outdoor game.
• The PK pitched an 0-for, with Scott Gomez contributing particular yeoman service. He also skated miles and went 8-5 on faceoffs. But Gomez made a bad pass in the third period and drew boos from the cheap seats. Tough crowd.
• Roman Hamrlik played 23:15. He’s most effective under 20:00.
• I thought Lars Eller had a tough time with tight Buffalo checking.
• Good night for Smurfs: two goals by Nathan Gerbe and a solid effort by David Desharnais. DD was minus-2, but the first goal he was on for was attributable to Ryan White’s inability to clear the zone. Then DD was on when Andrei Kostitsyn’s bad pass led to Gerbe’s empty-netter.
• P.K. played 24:20 and was the best skater in a red jersey.