SABRES (19-9-2) at CANADIENS (15-15-3)
Last 10 -- Buffalo 7-3-0; Montreal 4-4-2
Season series -- These teams split their first two games of the year, the most recent a 6-2 win for the Sabres at HSBC Arena.
Big Story -- The first-place Sabres are looking to keep building a cushion in the Northeast Division, while the rival Canadiens are after two important points to keep them in the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Sabres -- With the winter solstice a week away, December doesn't get much colder than in Buffalo. Despite the temperature, the Sabres are among the hottest teams in the League, with two straight wins and seven in their last nine games. The recent stretch has propelled Buffalo into first place with a two-point lead over Boston, one of the few teams playing as well as the Sabres.
Buffalo, currently in the middle of a three-game road swing, opened its trip with a 3-2 win over the Rangers on Saturday. Patrick Kaleta was the star of the game with two goals, but Ryan Miller's 36 saves paint a more representative picture of why the Sabres are winning. Miller, who leads the League with a 1.83 goals-against average, is 6-2-0 in his last eight starts, having given up more than two goals just once in that stretch. Buffalo will need him to keep up his sterling play in Montreal -- the Sabres have lost seven of their last nine visits to the Bell Centre.
Canadiens -- After a brief three-game winning streak, the Habs have dropped two straight games, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Atlanta their last time out. Those losses have Montreal teetering on the edge of the East's playoff bracket, where the Canadiens currently sit in eighth place. With Tampa Bay, the Islanders and Florida all nipping at the Habs' collective heels, any points are important points for Montreal.
The big strength for the Canadiens recently has been their penalty kill, which hadn't given up a goal in 33 opportunities before Atlanta broke the streak Saturday, but their offense has also been producing. Team scoring leader Tomas Plekanec has seven points in his last five games, and Montreal has gotten an unlikely contribution from its blue line where Roman Hamrlik and Marc-Andre Bergeron have combined for nine points in the last four games. The Habs will need scoring from anywhere they can find it against Miller, the likely U.S. starter at the Vancouver Olympics in two months.
Who's Hot -- Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn has four goals in his last four games, while Derek Roy has eight points in his last eight outings for Buffalo.
Injury Report -- Mike Grier (personal reasons), Nathan Gerbe (groin) and Chris Butler (ankle) are all listed as questionable for Monday for Buffalo, while Bergeron (facial laceration) and Paul Mara (upper-body injury) are questionable for Montreal.
Stat Pack -- Montreal starter Carey Price could be put in a rough spot by his defense. The Habs allow 31.6 shots against per game -- 24th in the League -- while the Sabres average five more shots per game than Montreal with 32.1, good for sixth in the NHL. Buffalo's penchant for putting shots on net doesn't bode well for the Canadiens, who have given up 2.82 goals per game this season. The Sabres, meanwhile, have only surrendered 2.17.
Puck Drop -- Montreal and Buffalo have plenty of experience with one another, and this game will likely come down to the men between the pipes. The numbers would say Miller is the man to put your money on, but the Vezina contender is winless with a 2.71 GAA in his last four starts at the Bell Centre.