Gionta goal propels Canadiens to OT win
NHL.com | Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:51 AM
BUFFALO -- Brian Gionta redeemed himself for taking two bad penalties on power plays by scoring in overtime to give the wounded Montreal Canadiens a 2-1 victory Saturday night over the Buffalo Sabres.
It was the Canadiens' second-straight road overtime win in their first two games this season. They beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, 4-3. And, it was a reversal of the Buffalo season-opener a year ago when the Sabres beat the Canadiens, 2-1, in a shootout.
"That wasn't the way we drew it up but we'll take it," Gionta said of the play in which he went to the net while Scott Gomez shot from the slot at 2:42 of overtime. Gomez's shot bounced off Craig Rivet and ricocheted off the end board to Gionta, who tapped it past Ryan Miller's right arm.
"When you go to the net, good things happen," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "(Gomez) shot the puck and it hit the defenseman on the shoulder, went to the back board and came back. He was going to the net and tipped it behind Miller. It showed the kind of player Brian is, battling and going to the net."
It was a tough defeat for the Sabres, who opened the scoring at 2:30 of the first period but couldn't score again despite outshooting the Canadiens, 35-17.
"It shows a lot of character in both games, coming from behind and battling in overtime," said Gionta, who signed as a free agent this summer and was reunited with his former New Jersey Devils teammate, Gomez. "We came out flat, the whole team was flat in the first period, and we gave up too many opportunities in the first period. But Carey (Price) is bailing us out. When you come out, you want to change that and I thought the whole team did a good job in responding."
For their part, the Sabres felt they played well, dominated the Canadiens for most of the game, but were beaten by a hot goaltender and some bad bounces.
"It was a great effort by the guys again, get the point and move on," Miller said. "The boys showed a lot of character and played a great game and I'm excited for that. We held the puck for most of the night and didn't get the bounces that we needed."
"We had the puck go off the defenseman's shin pad, go off the end wall, went half in the air and got tipped in," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We did a lot of good things, we just didn't score.
"We didn't give up much. We had some offensive opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. They played a smart game. They just kept dumping the puck out and icing it, kind of slowed things down. You have to give them credit. They tried to hang around. They hung around and got the bounce they wanted. We were making too many 60-, 70-foot passes."
The Sabres, their management and fans were hoping it was a good omen when their captain, their leading scorer and their superstar combined for the first goal of the season. Tim Connolly scored a power-play goal at 2:40 of the first period off a great pass into the slot from Craig Rivet, the second assist going to Derek Roy, who led the Sabres last season with 70 points.
The oft-injured Connolly had 47 points in 48 games last season, and the Sabres are desperately hoping he can play his first full campaign since 2003.
The Canadiens evened the score at 12:33 of the second period when Travis Moen was taken down by Andrej Sekera while driving to the net. As Moen was falling, he got off a weak shot that went between Miller's legs and into the net, seconds before it was dislodged. Moen took down Miller and Steve Montador and pushed Miller back into the net, dislodging it. The crowd thought the puck missed the net or that Moen was responsible for crashing into Miller, but the replay was clear that Moen was taken down and that the puck entered the net.
"Two tough goals went in on us," Ruff said. "He just kind of slid in and I think his body brought it in."
The Canadiens had a golden opportunity to take the lead after Andrej Sekera took a penalty at 9:11 of the second period but they lost it when Gionta took his second offensive-zone penalty during a Habs power play at 10:23. Jochen Hecht's shot on a breakaway was turned aside by Price.
If Martin was upset with Gionta's penalties, he wasn't sharing.
"Sometimes, you're anxious but we were on a power play and sometimes you try to hold your ground and unfortunately it cost us a penalty," Martin said. "But I think he made up for it in overtime."
Once again, Price was the Canadiens' best player, stopping 34 of 35 shots. The Canadiens were outshot, 46-27, by Toronto but won, 4-3.
"It's something we'll look at. The chances aren't as bad as the shots but we'll work on it," Martin said. "We'll take the two points but at the same time we know we have to improve in certain areas."
And, once again, Moen was an offensive star for the Canadiens. Moen had only seven goals last season while playing for Anaheim and San Jose but he scored against Toronto and he scored again against Buffalo.
The Sabres and Canadiens took polar-opposite approaches to team building during the offseason. The Canadiens, the eighth and final Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff qualifier have 11 new players in their lineup while the Sabres stuck pretty much with the team that finished two points out of the playoffs.
The Sabres had the more coordinated play for most of the game and were able to stay with their original lines, while the Canadiens changed defensive pairings and lines in the second period due to the injuries to Ryan O'Byrne and Glen Metropolit.
There was a suspicion Metropolit, normally a good faceoff man, had an arm injury because Matt Ellis won all five first-period faceoffs against him. Ellis was 1-for-5 against different centers in the second period.
Martin said both players will be evaluated Sunday morning. The Canadiens have already lost alternate captain Andrei Markov, their best defenseman, for four months. Markov underwent surgery Friday to repair a severed ankle tendon suffered when he collided with Price in the Habs' crease during Thursday's game.
-- John McGourty, NHL.com Staff Writer