MONTREAL – If the Buffalo Sabres are looking for a blueprint on how to compete the rest of this season, they don't need to look very far. In fact, their best example might be the final 30 minutes of their loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, which multiple players have called the hardest they've played all season.
"You see the way we played in the third period, you just wish we could piece together 60 minutes like that," rookie forward Jack Eichel said. "We did a lot of good things and I think it says a lot about the resiliency of this team. We don’t ever think we're out of a game."
Buffalo will have another chance to piece together 60 such minutes when they play the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night, their fourth of five meetings with the Atlantic Division rival. Buffalo is 2-1-0 against Montreal this season.
The Canadiens beat the Sabres in Buffalo on Oct. 23 when they were undefeated nearly a month into the season and atop the NHL standings. Their struggles have been well documented since then as they've played without Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, and the Sabres beat them twice in February.
"They're a really good team so they always give us a lot," Eichel said. "They're a team that can score in bunches really quickly. I think for us, it's just a simple game: Put the puck behind their D, forecheck, and get pucks to the net. Limit their opportunities to create offense on the rush and I think we'll be all right."
The Canadiens enter Thursday missing more than just their goaltender. They're missing David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher among other forwards, while Lars Eller missed their last game and is questionable to play against the Sabres.
Alex Galchenyuk has picked up the brunt of the load with four multi-goal performances in the team's last seven outings, but that hasn't stopped the Canadiens from losing four of their last five. Montreal dropped all of their games on a four-game road trip before beating Dallas at home on Tuesday.
But Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that regardless of the personnel, there are certain qualities he expects to see from a Michel Therrien-coached team. His players know not to take them lightly.
"I think just make sure we're playing them hard and be smart," forward Matt Moulson said. "They've got some fast forwards that can jump on turnovers, obviously some guys on the backend that create offense as well so it's making sure you're not careless with the puck in our own zone."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres and will oppose rookie Mike Condon. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Sportsnet and the game can also be head live on WGR 550.
PROGRESS ON THE POWER PLAY
The Sabres are 0-for-6 on the power play in their last two games after a 2-for-2 outing against the Minnesota Wild on March 5, but those who are a part of it said they've seen recent progress in their zone time and possessions.
The Sabres had two power plays against the Rangers on Tuesday, one of which produced five shots on goal. They'll face Montreal's fifth-ranked penalty kill on Thursday, which has been successful at an 84.2-percent clip.
"I think we've gotten better. We had some chances last game against New York," Eichel said. "I think with the power play, the smallest little detail can make the difference when it comes to scoring or not. It's something we worked on in practice a little bit and Montreal is obviously really good on special teams so it's going to be a tough battle for us tonight."
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 19 Cal O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
43 Daniel Catenacci – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson