Sabres-Canadiens Preview

The red-hot Montreal Canadiens have jumped into first place in

the Atlantic Division.

Ensuring they remain there for more than 48 hours won’t require

anything extraordinary – just a win Saturday night against the

lowly Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre.

The surge that got the Canadiens (18-9-3) to the top of the

division has been more impressive. They’re 8-0-1 since Nov. 19 and

haven’t allowed more than three goals in 13 straight games.

It doesn’t seem league-worst Buffalo (6-21-2) should throw them

off track. While Montreal can win six straight at home for the

first time since a nine-game run to close 2006-07, the Sabres try

to avoid a sixth consecutive road loss after dropping the last five

by a 17-5 margin.

Thursday’s 2-1 home win over Boston extended Montreal’s overall

winning streak to four while pushing the team one point ahead of

the Bruins for the Atlantic lead.

“For us, it was the ideal opportunity to give it our all,”

defenseman P.K. Subban told the team’s official website. “It’s

really satisfying to know that your team is on top because you

worked hard. We’re proving day after day that this team is part of

the elite in the NHL.”

Carey Price made 32 saves to win a sixth consecutive start

during the team’s streak without a regulation loss, and he hasn’t

allowed more than two goals in nine straight. His .954 save

percentage since Nov. 12 is the league’s best.

The win over Boston was Montreal’s third in four days, and

backup Peter Budaj has made such stretches quite a bit easier on

Price and coach Michel Therrien with his 5-1-1 season record and

1.80 GAA.

“There are a lot of things I like about our team this year,

starting with our goalies,” Therrien said. “They are both playing

great hockey and giving us a lot of confidence. Peter Budaj has

given us great performances, which lets Carey Price to come out

rested and ready every time.”

Price has a 1.74 GAA in 13 career home games against

Buffalo.

One of the league’s best penalty kills also has keyed the recent

defensive consistency. The Canadiens’ 86.3 percent mark has been

bolstered by killing 17 straight over the last six games.

Max Pacioretty has highlighted the Canadiens’ play in the

offensive zone during the hot streak with nine goals in nine games,

including the winner late in the second period Thursday.

The Sabres have won seven of eight in Montreal but only one of

their last eight overall. They’re the only team in hockey without

20 points, and given the pace at which they’ve reached 14, they’re

still a ways off.

Offensive struggles have doomed them all season, but the problem

has been magnified recently. They’ve scored 10 goals in eight games

after Thursday’s 3-1 home loss to the New York Rangers.

“Sometimes we show it, sometimes we don’t,” coach Ted Nolan

said. “That’s been the common theme since I’ve been here. We try to

find that button to push to say, “Let’s do it not sometimes but all

the time.'”

They typically look to Ryan Miller to earn them the occasional

win when in such jams, but he’s 2-3-0 with a 3.67 GAA against the

Canadiens since the start of last season.

Montreal has won two straight meetings, including 3-1 in Buffalo

on Nov. 27, as Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk scored in

both.

Sabres winger Matt Moulson also had a goal in last month’s

matchup and has six points in his last four games against the

Canadiens.