A lot has changed since Habs, Sabres last met (Jan 21, 2017)
MONTREAL -- A clean slate lay before the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres the last time the two teams met; their regular seasons were set to begin with both having their sights set on the playoffs.
Three months later, the two clubs find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Montreal (28-13-6) leads the Atlantic Division with 62 points after a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres, meanwhile, sit last in the division -- and 14th in the Eastern Conference -- with 45 points, five points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot. While the points gap isn't too big of a hole, six teams sit between Buffalo and Toronto.
"I've got to be one of the key guys that has to be a leader on the stat sheet," Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, who tied the game late, said after the game. "In the room, I've got to be a voice and if we want to get back and get into the playoffs, which is possible, it's going to be tough but I've got to start with myself."
Buffalo (18-18-9) took a step in the right direction on Friday night, erasing a pair of one-goal deficits before skating away with a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings at home, courtesy of a Kyle Okposo power-play tally.
But while Dan Bylsma's troop got two much-needed points, it lost yet another defenseman to injury. Already without Josh Gorges (hip) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower back), the Sabres' blue line took another beating when Jake McCabe suffered a shoulder injury in the first period and did not return; Bylsma said the team would call someone up ahead of Saturday's tilt.
With McCabe out, Risto Ristolainen set a new career high in logging 35:24 of ice time, including the entire 4:34 of overtime.
"He's so poised, makes good hard plays," Justin Falk told the Buffalo News. "He knows when to be simple and when to make the pass as well."
The Canadiens are no strangers to missing key elements. They've been without Andrei Markov (groin) since Dec. 18; he remains on injured reserve along with defenseman Greg Pateryn and forwards Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais.
Alex Galchenyuk was among those until returning last weekend. And while he played the first few games of his return on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, coach Michel Therrien swapped things up ahead of Friday's game in search of offense, moving the 22-year-old to the third line.
"It's funny. I think we made such a big deal out of if I lost my game and stuff like that," Galchenyuk said following the win. "I knew going out there, just play my game. Last game, we didn't get a lot of scoring opportunities and as a team, we weren't satisfied and we knew we were going to bounce back. We worked on the power play a lot and it definitely paid off."
Galchenyuk scored one of three power play goals for Montreal, marking the first time since Nov. 22, 2015, that the team has converted three times with the man advantage.
Carey Price will get the start for the Canadiens while Robin Lehner is expected to get the nod for the Sabres.