After a frustrating slump, the Buffalo Sabres have responded with back-to-back wins against two of the NHL's hottest teams.
The Sabres look to keep up the momentum against their Northeast Division rival Saturday when they visit the Montreal Canadiens, who open the longest homestand in franchise history.
Both Buffalo (11-8-3) and Montreal (12-6-4) got off to quick starts in October, but they've been inconsistent and now are trying to close November on a high note. The Sabres in particular seem to be heading in the right direction after posting wins over Boston and Pittsburgh - two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference - in their last two games.
The Penguins came into Friday's game having gone 8-1-1 in their previous 10 games, but the Sabres rallied for a 4-3 win after scoring two third-period goals. Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad each had two goals, with Gaustad scoring the game-winner with 3:24 to play.
"They're a great team and we know they have the firepower, but we stayed within our system and it paid off for us," Gaustad said. "We didn't run around and we stayed within ourselves. When we do that we're a strong team and a hard team to play against."
Two days earlier, the Sabres beat a Bruins team which had won nine of 10.
Buffalo's consecutive wins came after a five-game losing streak, during which it was outscored 25-9. The Sabres let their opponents score six times in 22 power-play chances during that skid, but Pittsburgh and Boston went 0-for-9 against them.
The Canadiens (12-6-4), meanwhile, are hoping they can regain the momentum from their hot start as they play the first of a franchise-record seven consecutive home games. Montreal opened the season 8-1-1, but lost for the third time in four games Friday, falling 3-0 to the Capitals.
Montreal also faces Atlanta, the New York Rangers, New Jersey, Calgary, Tampa Bay and Washington during this homestand, which ends Dec. 13. The Canadiens are 5-2-2 at the Bell Centre this season, but are 0-1-2 in their last three home games.
They were shut out Friday for the first time since March 13 against Ottawa. Jaroslav Halak stopped 27 shots, but allowed two third-period goals to the Capitals.
"Jaro - that's where I'm embarrassed," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We come up with that kind of game, and that kind of effort - and I'm really sad for him."
The Canadiens have averaged 1.9 goals in the last nine games after averaging 3.7 in the first 10. It didn't help Friday that they were without Alex Tanguay (whiplash), who leads the team with eight goals. It's not known whether he'll be available Saturday.
The Sabres and Canadiens opened their respective seasons in Buffalo on Oct. 10 with the Sabres winning 2-1 in a shootout. Buffalo has lost five of its last six visits to Montreal.