Sabres-Canadiens: Montreal Learns Lesson Against Buffalo, Has Playoffs in Sight


Montreal 3, Sabres 0 (Bell Centre)

“Now if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. Poise counts!”—Kramer

Last night, I was quoting Ghandi, tonight it’s Kramer. Yes, at All Habs, there’s something for everyone.

No word whether Seinfeld’s ‘The Chaperone’ was required viewing at the morning meeting of the Canadiens, but the coach said “poise” was on the agenda.

Jacques Martin was conducting class and letting his students know that too many of them didn’t appear to want the puck on Friday night in Philadelphia. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez were the exceptions to that rule and recommended as role models.

“What I liked is that we’re learning,” said Martin after the game tonight. “We had more poise and we were more comfortable with the puck.”

Indeed, the Habs have learned that scoring early and sitting on a slim lead for two-and-a-half periods is not wise. Yet it is something they have tried often this season, including the two previous games this week.

But not tonight.

The Canadiens continued to skate, forecheck, and pressure Sabres’ puck carriers in any zone on the ice. With the Sabres pressing to catchup, the Canadiens were also able to take advantage of mistakes, and increase their lead.

The concept is simple enough, but it seemed to come as a revelation to one person.

“When we forecheck, and use speed and quickness, we are a very good hockey team,” said Coach Martin.

Was this a light bulb moment? After 79 games this season, is coach Martin finally caught on to a system many of us have been advocating since October? I would love to think so.

Martin may stand at a podium and tell the media that he wants an aggressive, puck possession team, and that he wants players to forecheck. But if his team has a lead, whatever he tells them translates into a 1-4 system with players backpeddaling as fast as they can out of the neutral zone to protect their own end.

I think it’s just too hard for him to change.

But for a game, whether driven by the players or the coach, the Canadiens pressed the Sabres. Goal scoring came from players who have worked very hard throughout the season. Tonight they were rewarded for their efforts.

Ryan O’Byrne’s first goal in 25 months seemed to give the whole team a lift. The third and fourth lines were solid with Tom Pyatt and Sergei Kostitsyn being the other scorers for the Habs. Dominic Moore had two assists.

The Canadiens also dominated at the faceoff dot with Tomas Plekanec winning 12 of 14 draws (86 percent) and Scott Gomez going 15-for-21 (71 percent).

Jaroslav Halak had a second outstanding game but can share this shutout with his teammates who did a great job filling the shooting lanes and not allowing second shot chances.

“His teammates supported him better this time,” said Martin about Halak’s performance. “He made some good saves, but he didn’t have to work as hard.”

The Habs’ power-play continues to be a concern going 0-for-5 tonight.

Coming into this game, the Canadiens had not scored three goals in their previous seven games (not counting empty net goals). On Twitter, Arpon Basu posted a message that the Habs’ record is 33-3-3 when scoring three or more goals. Of those games, Halak is 23-2-0, and Carey Price’s record is 10-1-3.

Without putting too fine a point on the numbers, they simply mean that both goaltenders are equally doing the job when the team provides the offense.

So perhaps it’s time that coach Martin prepares a few more lesson plans. The topic? Scoring. Five-on-five scoring. Power play scoring. Any style of scoring that provides three goals a game.

How can the team get that production? By forechecking. Being aggressive. And poise. Because poise counts!

Rocket’s three stars

1. Jaroslav Halak
2. Ryan O’Byrne
3. Sergei Kostitsyn

Special mention: Dominic Moore, Tom Pyatt

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

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