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Sabres V Habs Game 23

The Sabres survived a costly turnover against the Penguins on Friday night, but were unable to weather another Saturday night against the Montreal Canadians in a 3-2 loss.
The first of the 3 goals Montreal scored was due to sloppy play by Buffalo. Unfortunately, it jump-started their engines for the rest of the game. The cause was a fumbled pass from Teppo Numminen to Pat Kaleta, just inside the Buffalo blue line. Andrei Kostitsyn picked up the errant puck and drove it past a sprawled Patrick Lalime, who hit the ice in response to a fanned shot. Kostitsyn was able to regain control and pop it over Lalime into the net, despite the Buffalo netminder almost making the save.
This wasn’t lost on Lindy Ruff, who recognized that goal as the turning point in the game. “We had real good momentum going into the second period,” Ruff said. “We came off the power play where we generated some pretty good opportunities. We let our guard down, had a little coverage mistake and we let them get right back in the game.”
It’s a real shame, because they played an almost perfect first period. They scored a goal, allowed none, and kept the Canadians bottled up tightly. The only real downside was the fact that they were out-hit by the Habs 8-4. That carried through the rest of the game, with the final tally ending up 28-14. It could have been due to the beating Kaleta took. Early in the first he was crosschecked from behind and took a hard shot to the collarbone while laying face-down on the ice. He was also the victim of a vicious hit from behind in the third, courtesy of Andrei Kostitsyn, that sent him sprawling face first into the boards.
The Sabres did play a decent road game, despite the final outcome. They skated hard, they just didn’t bury all of their chances. Vanek, who notched goals 16 and 17, could have had at least one more. He did, however, manage to retake the league lead from Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter. His first was the result of Jaroslav Spacek keeping the puck in the zone on power play. He quickly fed it up to Clarke MacArthur, who’s pass to Vanek found twine. His second was due to an ugly turnover committed by Montreal in their own zone. Vanek was initially foiled while trying to take the puck to the net, but the puck made its way back to Drew Stafford’s stick, who passed it cross-crease to Vanek for the tap-in.
Their only real mistakes, unfortunately, translated directly into goals. Montreal’s second goal was due to a botched Buffalo line change. Three Sabres were caught deep in their own zone, trying to defend against two advancing Habs players, when Steve Begin shot in undetected to take a pass and score the game-tying goal. They took the lead later in the period when it was 4-on-4. The Sabres couldn’t get a handle on the Habs’ quick passing, and it looked like they had the man-advantage. Andrei Markov moved in from the point unabated and Saku Koivu set up his third of the year from behind the net.
The third period had to be frustrating for the Sabres. Montreal provided a fantastic example of how to play shutdown defense, and successfully defended their 1-goal lead for the entire period. It wasn’t uncommon to see all 5 Canadians’ in their zone defending against the Buffalo rush. It also helped that Buffalo didn’t pull their goaltender until about a minute left in the period, despite the intense pressure they were putting on 40 seconds earlier. Hopefully the coaching staff realizes their mistake – an extra attacker could have helped punch one in.
Still, the Sabres were able to squeeze water from a stone, coming away with 4 of 6 points in games with 3 of the East’s hottest teams. The Nashville Predators will be in town Monday – a team the Sabres usually have an fiercely intense physical game with. They’re 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, and have only 1 point less than Buffalo, so they should be just as hungry as the Sabres for a win. If the Sabres can up return to their physical form from the Boston and Pittsburgh games, and eliminate the turnovers, they should be able to take this one to the bank.

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