MONTREAL - After turning the tables on the opposition and erasing more than their share of late-game deficits so far this season, the Canadiens got a little taste of their own medicine in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres on Thursday at the Bell Centre.
Playing without a number of regulars including Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov, the Canadiens (14-7-5) suffered their fourth straight loss to now find themselves in a three-way tie with 33 points along with the Sabres (16-9-1) and Maple Leafs for second spot in the Northeast Division.
Despite having grabbed an early 2-0 second-period lead and a 2-1 edge with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, the Canadiens were their own worst enemy on this night by taking a pair of penalties in the offensive zone while holding a man-advantage.
"With the way things have been going lately, we really couldn't afford to take those types of costly penalties. The Sabres capitalized and made us pay for those mistakes," said Claude Julien, who saw Buffalo score on each of those subsequent power-plays to send the game into overtime. "With the players we have out of the lineup right now, we still have enough guys to get the job done. We just need our best players to be our best players on the ice and that's not happening right now."
When pushed a little further to point out the culprits, the coach would have no part of it.
"Look, I'm not going to play that game. Don't expect me to pick one guy or single somebody out because that's not going to happen," vowed Julien. "Our team is not playing well right now and it's not because of one or two players. I deal with my players that have to be dealt with in the dressing room behind closed doors, not here."
The news wasn't all bad for Julien and the Canadiens as the reunited trio of Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Pierre Dagenais accounted for both Montreal goals.
Ryder got the Canadiens on the board just over eight minutes into the first period with his team-leading 11th of the season with a little help from Ribeiro and Francis Bouillon. The right-winger also picked up an assist to give him 19 points on the year, including a team-leading six points over his last six games. Despite delivering one of his best performances of the season to date, the game's second star was in no mood to dwell on the positives.
"This is a really tough one to take. We knew we couldn't afford to make many mistakes because we're a little depleted right now," said Ryder. "It's frustrating to work as hard as we did and still come out with a loss."
Ryder's linemate Dagenais notched his second goal of the season when he pounced on a loose puck in the crease before slipping it past Sabres goalie Martin Biron. The marker was Dagenais' first in 15 games and fifth of his career against the Sabres, as he has now scored more goals against Buffalo than any other team.
Tim Connolly and Brian Campbell did most of the damage for Buffalo with three points apiece, including a goal and two helpers for Connolly and Campbell's pair of assists and overtime winner. Chris Drury also scored late in the third for the Sabres to force overtime.
Biron, who came into the season with a career-best 10-3 record against Montreal, narrowly averted suffering already his third loss of the season to the Canadiens as he stopped 18-of-20 shots to earn his seventh win in as many starts. Jose Theodore had a busier night than his counterpart, turning away 27-of-30 shots.
The Canadiens were outshot on home-ice for only the fourth time this season with the Sabres turning the trick for second time of 2005-06. Montreal also lost for only the third time of the season when they score first as their record now stands at 10-1-2 when they draw first blood.
A welcome sight for Canadiens fans came before the puck was even dropped Thursday night. Alex Kovalev was back on the ice at the Bell Centre but was unfortunately not in his skates just yet. Kovalev, who sat out his eighth game since undergoing knee surgery on Nov. 15, received a warm ovation when he was introduced as the Molson Cup winner for the month of November. Crutch-free and without a any signs of a limp, each of the Russian's steps along the red carpet to center ice brought him that much closer to his eventual return to the lineup.
The Canadiens will continue their homestand on Saturday against the Los Angles Kings before getting a well deserved week off to prepare for a visit from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Dec. 10.
NOTES: The thoughts and prayers of the Canadiens are with Mike Komisarek, whose mother Kathy passed away late Tuesday night after her long battle with cancer. Komisarek missed his second straight game to be with his family back in New York. No timetable has been set for his return to the lineup... Vintage Night at the Bell Centre against the Sabres drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 14th consecutive sellout of the season and 37th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Saku Koivu missed his first action of the season with a groin injury suffered during practice Wednesday morning... D Andrei Markov served the second game of his three-game suspension for allegedly shoving a linesman following Saturday's 4-3 loss in Toronto... RW Andrei Kostitsyn played in his first NHL game after being called up earlier in the day, following the announcement that Koivu would not play. Kostitsyn only played one shift for 0:39 of ice-time in his Canadiens debut... Montreal is now 6-2 when sporting their vintage jerseys worn in honor of the 1945-46 edition of the Canadiens... The Sabres were without leading scorer Daniel Briere (abdominal strain) who missed his fifth straight game, while linemate Jean-Pierre Dumont (abdominal strain) sat out his seventh consecutive game...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com