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First-place Canadiens face division rival Sabres

by Tal Pinchevsky

SABRES (6-21-2) at CANADIENS (18-9-3)


Last 10: Buffalo 3-6-1; Montreal 8-1-1

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens won their first game against the Buffalo Sabres, 3-1 on Nov. 27. After Saturday, they won't meet again for three months before facing off twice in a week in March.

Big story: These longtime rivals enter the game looking at each other from different ends of the Atlantic Division. Montreal beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Thursday to overtake them in the division standings, although Boston holds two games in hand. Buffalo is last in the overall standings with 14 points after a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday. The Sabres have one win in their past eight games.

Team Scope:

Sabres: After winning its first game after Ted Nolan was brought in as coach after Ron Rolston was fired on Nov. 13, Buffalo has gone 1-6-1, with the lone victory coming in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Sabres hoped to turn things around when the Rangers visited First Niagara Center. But Rick Nash's goal 17:47 into the first period put Buffalo in a familiar and unfortunate position -- playing from behind. The Sabres have trailed after 20 minutes in 22 of their 29 games; they are 5-17-0 when trailing through one period.

Tyler Ennis scored with 2:06 left, but it wasn't enough as the Sabres lost 3-1. It was the sixth time in their past seven games they were held to one or fewer goals. Ryan Miller made 28 saves but wasn't happy with any of the three goals he allowed.

"My job remains the same. I have to respond with a better effort than I had against the Rangers and keep building my game, hopefully in anticipation of putting myself out there for USA Hockey and helping this team get on the right page here,” Miller said after practice Friday. “We’re improving in small areas and our games are becoming hockey games now instead of lopsided kind of events. We’re in games and we gotta find ways to win. Hopefully that’s coming.”

Canadiens: After opening November with four straight losses, Montreal has been among the NHL's hottest teams, going 10-1-2. That run has been due in large part to a stingy defense and the re-emergence of forward Max Pacioretty, who has scored nine goals in his past nine games.

That hot streak for Pacioretty and the Canadiens continued Thursday. Montreal got the tying goal from Tomas Plekanec before Pacioretty scored the go-ahead goal with 2:18 remaining in the second period. Carey Price stopped 16 shots in the third to preserve the 2-1 victory, marking the ninth straight game in which he has allowed two or fewer goals.

"There's a lot of character in this room and we all know we have a lot more to give," Pacioretty said. "Certain guys are stepping up, like Carey tonight."

Who's hot: Moulson has two goals in his past four games. Forward Zemgus Girgensons has two points in his past three games. … Pacioretty's linemate David Desharnais has nine points in his past nine games.

Injury report: Sabres forward Cody McCormick (upper body) returned to the lineup Thursday after missing four games; he didn't practice Friday but is expected to be ready to go. Defenseman Alexander Sulzer (undisclosed) is on injured reserve. … Canadiens forward Rene Bourque (lower body) is questionable.

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