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McCabe, Montour formed steady pair against Nashville's top trio

Defensive duo has formed quick chemistry through two games

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jake McCabe protected the puck from Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson along the end boards in his own zone, biding time until his defense partner arrived for support. He passed it to Brandon Montour, who drew the forecheck in the opposite direction before reversing the puck back to McCabe. 

By the time McCabe delivered his breakout pass to Jack Eichel, Montour was already speeding across the defensive blue line as an extra means of neutral-zone support. 

It was the sort of shift that set the tone for the defensive duo of McCabe and Montour, who seemed to provide a perfect blend of speed and physicality against the Predators on Tuesday night. 

McCabe and Montour were matched up heavily with Nashville's top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson, yet the Sabres outscored the Predators 1-0 with that duo on the ice at even strength. Scoring chances were 8-6 in Buffalo's favor with the pair on the ice at even strength despite them not starting any of their shifts in the offensive zone, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

"I thought we handled them pretty well," McCabe said. "I thought we limited their opportunities. Monty's a hell of a player. He's really fun to play with, really easy to play with. He does a great job talking to me out there, supporting me all over the ice, and he just really attacks the game. He throws his body around and just all facets of his game are really fun to play with."

Playing a physical, shutdown role in his own zone is McCabe's forte, while Montour specializes in his ability to join the rush and contribute offensively. On the surface, those yin-and-yang qualities make the two defensemen ideal partners, with McCabe's ability in his own zone allowing Montour to be aggressive up the ice. 

But both defensemen are multi-faceted. As dynamic a skater as Montour is, he prides himself on his ability to play a physical game in his own zone. McCabe is a strong skater who has shown he can contribute offensively, including a 20-game stretch to begin this season in which he tallied nine points (2+7). 

"We play hard against them," Montour said regarding the Johansen matchup. "Any chance we got, we closed pretty quick and didn't give them too much. We're smart enough that when we had the puck, we're helping each other, supporting each other. 

"I think we talked a couple times last night, we played a little in our D-zone, a little on offense but I think for the most part it was more in the neutral zone area, moving the puck in that sense. For me, I try to play that hard game as well, so definitely when we have two together like that it can translate."

McCabe began skating with Montour upon his return from a 13-game absence against Columbus on Sunday, skating 20:46. Montour matched his season high with seven shots that night to go along with three hits and three blocked shots. 

McCabe complemented Montour's verbal skills as an asset that helped him ease back into the lineup.

"It's been really easy, I've played with pretty much everyone on the team now this year and each guy kind of has his tendencies," McCabe said. "You try to figure that out pretty quickly, but I think we've gelled nicely these first couple games, especially being out for about four weeks. He really helped me out getting back into that first game, talking to me and making my life easier out there."

"I think that's a strength of mine since I've been in the league or since I've started playing," Montour added. "Communication is huge, especially coming to a new team and getting familiar with my teammates, coaches, whoever it may be. I think communication is key, just to kind of get to know each other's tendencies."    

Montour has seen a revolving door of defense partners since being acquired from Anaheim in late February, a list that include Rasmus Dahlin, Matt Hunwick, Lawrence Pilut and Marco Scandella. 

It's only two games - with just two more remaining this season - but McCabe said he could see the early makings of a steady pair if they remain together going forward.

"There's a lot of guys on this team I can play with," he said. "It was a great pickup for us. He's a hell of a player and he's really going to help us in the future. I'm really happy to have him. As of right now, it's been going great together. 

"Just continue to work hard these next couple games and shut down whatever opponent we're going against and try to produce a little offense as well."

 

Wednesday's practice

Video: SABRES NOW

The Sabres took a light optional skate at KeyBank Center in advance of their final home game, which will be played against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. 

It will be Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center, with all fans in attendance receiving a Jack Eichel bobblehead and more giveaways and special offers to follow throughout the night. Click here for more information. 

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