Watching the Sportsnet broadcast of the Canadiens-Sabres season opener, I'll be keeping my eye on Shea Weber and Mikhail Sergachev.
Andrei Markov, who'll be paired with Jeff Petry at least according to early plans, is going to play with Greg Pateryn for now, I'll be interested to see how they do too. Greg is the big tough defensively-oriented partner we used to think a guy like Andrei Markov should ideally be paired with.
Early in the game, I see a few Sabres finishing their checks against Nathan Beaulieu with gusto, but being less generous doling out the rough stuff when they're up against Shea Weber.
When Josh Gorges takes the first penalty, the powerplay pairings Shea Weber and Andrei Markov get one good shot off. Second pairing Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev don't seem in sync, fumble and bumble with the puck. Fire Kirk Muller!
Brendan Gallagher scores the first goal of the season for the Canadiens, on a wrister from outside the slot, a goal we'd see in the Eighties but which don't go in normally these days. Off the post and in, and Robin Lehner continues to fail to impress, aside from how he intimidates me with his foreboding brow, one of his many acromegalic traits.
Greg Pateryn has a really nice shot. He's mobile and fluid enough that he can tee it up with ease, it's not like everything has to be perfect with lots of room for him to get it off. On a nice forecheck by David Desharnais, he gets a loose puck at the blue line and rips a good shot off at the net.
A second powerplay is called due to the fact that the Foligno doesn't fall far from the tree. We see lots of scuffling again, the team struggling to get clean possession in the Sabres zone, and Andrei Markov ends up booting a puck, a giveaway which sends Evander Kane off on a breakaway.
The first period finishes 1-0. Noted were a couple of instances of the defencemen protecting the crease, not allowing any Sabres to hang around when Al Montoya was trying to freeze the puck.
Mikhail Sergachev tried a fancy move at the offensive blue line, even though he was the last man back, and got the puck poked away. Lucky for him the puck bounce didn't facilitate a breakaway, it banked off sideways. These kind of moves may have worked in the OHL, but if he tries that again in the NHL, he'll find himself back in the OHL, with Michel Therrien's blessing.
Early in the second, Torrey Mitchell scores exactly the kind of goal we hope the fourth line will all season long, on a rush caused by their defensive pressure. Paul Byron does most of the heavy lifting, crashes heavily in the end boards, while his centreman lurks in front of the net to cash in a loose puck.
And who was Robin Lehner staring at after that goal, the ref, or his defenceman? I hope it wasn't the latter, that would be a jerk move. We get it, you hate giving up a goal, but don't show up your teammate, even if he messed up. Which in this case I don't think he did.
Now that Stefan Matteau is in the minors, and jersey #21 is free, let's put Phillip Danault in it right quick. The line of succession would run Doug Jarvis to Guy Carbonneau to Phillip Danault, with an unsanctioned Brian Gionta period.
Ugly fall in the boards by Evander Kane there at the end of the second period. I don't know if Alexei Emelin is completely blameless on that play. Players shouldn't project each other into the boards. As much as I like(d) hitting and rough play and thunderous bodychecks, I think the speeds they fly around at now, that the human body isn't built to withstand those kinds of collisions.
The third period starts with the Canadiens up 2-0, but a Shea Weber crosschecking puts the Sabres on the powerplay, and Alexei Emelin gets caught, drawn in by the puck behind the net even though Greg Pateryn was already there. Matt Moulson got left all alone in front of the net, and didn't miss when he got a pass.
I didn't like how a minute later Daniel Carr was surrounded by Sabres in front of their net after a whistle, given a rough ride, but none of the refs did anything about it. Even worse, none of his teammates came to help. We need some size on this team.
Two quick goals then put away the Sabres we hope, one a deflection by Brendan Gallagher on a Shea Weber goal, and another on a messy scramble in front of the Sabres net by Andrew Shaw.
There was a scrum after an ugly collision in which Torrey Mitchell took a knee to the head from Josh Gorges. Torrey also took a puck to the face trying to block a shot from the point. Rough night for him, I think he didn't finish the game.
So with the score up 4-1 with much of the third period remaining, it's hard to figure out how to feel about the game and our team. Al Montoya has been strong while Robin Lehner has not, and that factors heavily. The Canadiens haven't exactly dominated a weak sister with several injuries. They got bounces which the Sabres did not, but for long stretches Buffalo carried the play. They outshot le bleu blanc rouge 31-24.
Alex Radulov has a jerky-jerky style, he's not quite a beautiful player from what I can observe so far. He's high energy, works hard, pinballs around, but he's not a smooth player, a guy who you can tell oozes talent with one glance.
Daniel Carr needs to quit it with the helmet strap chewing if he wants to look like he's out of puberty. Alexei Emelin is hitting everything that moves. He and Greg Pateryn and Shea Weber bring a lot more snarl to our back end.
Suprised that Andrei Markov kills that much penalty time. Even more surprised that Artturi Lehkonen got a few PK shifts as well.