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Buffalo bound

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – Michel Therrien’s troops aren’t about to let their collective guard down with an eighth straight win on the line against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.

While the Canadiens and their Atlantic Division counterparts are clearly headed in opposite directions, the consensus inside the locker room is that the Sabres will certainly offer up a good test – even if their early-season record of 2-4-0 leaves something to be desired through six games.

Torrey Mitchell will be making his return to Buffalo on Friday night for the first time since being traded to the Canadiens last season.

“We know that it won’t be an easy game. When you look at their record against us last year, things turned out pretty good for them. They’ve also got a few former Canadiens [in captain Brian Gionta and assistant captain Josh Gorges] who always look forward to playing against us. Those games are fun to play. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” offered Brendan Gallagher, referencing the Sabres’ 3-0-1 record against the CH during the 2014-15 campaign. “I know what it’s like to play against a team at the top of the standings. You’re always motivated. You want to be the team that puts an end to a streak. It’s the NHL. Nothing comes easy. They want the two points and they’ll be ready.”

Wins might have been hard to come by for Buffalo through two weeks of regular season play, but there certainly have been some bright spots for Dan Bylsma & Co. Rookie sensation Jack Eichel is on the right track, and the Sabres’ opponents also have to pay close attention to the likes of Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, all of whom can make plays and light the lamp.

“They’ve added a few pieces up front with Kane and Eichel. That adds something exciting to their lineup. They don’t give up a lot of goals and they play a physical game,” explained Gallagher, who boasts one goal, six points and a plus-6 differential through seven games this season. “They’re an energized group. We have to go in there thinking just about the things we have to do to have success.”

Eichel might still be in the infancy of his NHL career, but goaltender Mike Condon has a good idea of what the 18-year-old North Chelmsford, MA native brings to the table having gone up against him over the summer on home turf.

“He’s a Massachusetts kid, too. We play against each other in a pro league down in Foxborough. He’s got a very quick release and he’s a very fast skater and a dynamic player. You’ve certainly got to be on guard when he’s on the ice,” shared Condon, who will make his second start of the season for the Canadiens on Friday night, tending goal for the first time since downing the Ottawa Senators in his NHL debut on October 11. “They have a lot of skill. Every team in this league is very skilled. They played really well against Toronto [on Wednesday night]. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Former Sabre Torrey Mitchell – who will be making his first trip back to Buffalo since being dealt to the Canadiens at the trade deadline last season along with Brian Flynn – is certainly in agreement there.

“Buffalo is in a full re-build mode this year. It wasn’t the same at all last year. It seems like they have a lot of skills, so I’m expecting a tough game from them,” offered Mitchell, who played 60 games with the Sabres during parts of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. “This game is just another opportunity to keep the momentum going for us. We expect their best when we get there, but hopefully we can keep it going.”

Clearly comfortable in his new hockey home – which also just happens to be his hometown – Mitchell says his move from Western New York to Montreal worked out for the best, as evidenced by the fact that his line along with Flynn and Devante Smith-Pelly is firing on all cylinders right now.

“I think Brian and I have done well. Since the beginning of training camp, we accepted the role we’ve been given and we’ve been responsible every time we stepped on the ice. It created energy for us,” mentioned Mitchell, who has two goals and three points on the year, in addition to leading the Canadiens with 18 penalty minutes, too. “Montreal is the fourth team I’ve played for over the years, so it’s not like I haven’t been through something like this before [going back to a place where I used to play]. I have a lot of friends there in Buffalo, but that’s about it.”

It’s safe to say Mitchell will be putting those friendships on hold temporarily as the Canadiens look to run their record to 8-0-0 and bank another two points at the First Niagara Center.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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