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Canadiens chasing record with some former Sabres

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens are pursuing the record for the best start to an NHL season. To have a chance, they will have to defeat the two teams who hold it.

The unbeaten Canadiens play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, RDS, CITY, MSG-B, BELL TV) and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

If the Canadiens (7-0-0) can sweep those games, they will be in a position to tie the NHL record of 10-0-0 when they visit the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.

The 1993-94 Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Sabres each won 10 straight to start a season.

Two former Sabres have integral roles for the Canadiens and will play their first game in Buffalo since they came to Montreal at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline.

The Montreal Canadiens are pursuing the record for the best start to an NHL season. To have a chance, they will have to defeat two teams who hold it. (Photo: Getty Images)

Center Torrey Mitchell and left wing Brian Flynn make up two-thirds of the Canadiens' fourth line, joined by Devante Smith-Pelley, another player who was acquired in a trade, with the Anaheim Ducks last February.

Mitchell and Flynn were acquired in separate trades on March 2. Each was re-signed by the Canadiens before reaching free agency and are contributing to the early-season success in ways no one could have imagined a few weeks ago.

"Last year when I got traded, it was a tough adjustment, tougher than I expected it would be," Flynn said. "The way we play is a lot different than every other team in the League, but I think it fits my game."

The line was crucial in the Canadiens' 3-0 win against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

"Well, this is the best team we've played against," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is the best checking team we've played against. They used their fourth line, [which] is an experienced group of players, to check our top players, and they did a [heck] of a job. This is a well-coached, disciplined, play-the-game-the-right-way team; they're going to be a bear all year for everybody."

Montreal's fourth line scored once and combined for seven shots on goal against the Blues, and provided a lesson on how to counter what St. Louis was doing.

"We were trying to make plays and it wasn't working early on," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "I think against a big, physical team like that we realized we weren't making plays, we weren't getting bounces, we've got to keep it simple, get pucks deep and get on the forecheck. As soon as we did that, it made it hard for their [defense], made them turn around, made them skate more and we found success."

Pacioretty remembered a shift late in the first period when Flynn dumped the puck and Mitchell and Smith-Pelly successfully retrieved it on the forecheck, spending their shift in the Blues zone and inspiring the rest of the Canadiens forwards to follow suit.

Their play allows coach Michel Therrien to keep the three scoring lines fresh and gives the Canadiens an advantage late in games; they have outscored opponents 11-1 in the third period this season.

"Sometimes [when you're line-matching], you're going out there for three shifts quickly then you don't go out for a while. As a guy who needs to feel the puck, that kind of takes you out of it sometimes," Pacioretty said. "So getting that constant rotation and same rest period pretty much each time is really beneficial for me. It's a huge difference."

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