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Game 56 Preview: Sabres vs. Canadiens

Jan 4, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson (72) scores a goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen (34) during the third period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Game #56

Buffalo Sabres (24-27-4) vs. Montreal Canadiens (22-25-8)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST,  Bell Centre, Montreal Quebec


Radio: WGR-550

Know Your Opponent

Montreal Canadiens 

Record: 22-25-8

Last Game: 4-3 loss versus the Washington Capitals 

Division Ranking: 7th in the Atlantic 

PP: 18th, 20.1%

PK: 31st, 74.0%

What to Watch 

1. Kid Line Looking to Continue Strong Play

Lets face it. This season has not gone to plan for the Sabres’ top dogs. Guys like Thompson, Skinner and Tuch were supposed to double up on their strong play from last season, while guys like Power and Cozens were supposed to have breakout seasons filling out their potential as top line players.

Unfortunately, it did not go that way, with Mittlestadt, Peterka and Dahlin as the only three guys who really continued to build off their potential. With little left to play for this season, being too far away for a lottery pick and too far away for a playoff spot, finding some hidden positives is never easy.

However, the Benson, Krebs and Peterka line looked good last game with an 89% xGoals% during their 13:25 at 5v5. Their season totals are at roughly 65% xGoals% during the 30 minutes that they have played together at 5v5, suggesting that there may be something that works well with this line combination. For such a young group of players who are still figuring out their identity, leaving them together for a little bit would be wise during a season with consistently unpredictable line combinations.

Allowing them more time to find their chemistry which is immediately natural could serve as a way to find positives out of a bleak step toward sustainable success. Against a team like the Canadiens that regularly coughs up quality scoring chances, this young and talented line could prove to be the difference maker. 

2. Defense by Committee

Since the injury of Owen Power and Mattias Samuelsson, it has been slim pickings in the backend of the Sabres. The hole that these two defenders have left presents a larger roster building issue that management will have to address in the coming months.

Perhaps a deal at the deadline looking to fill a hole on the right side, drafting future assets looking forward to the right side (in a D heavy draft this seams like an optimal situation), hoping current pipeline projects can fill the void, or waiting it out until free agency. Regardless of how the solution will be resolved, the current outlook on defense is not a pretty one. 

As a result, this portion of the season will be Rasmus Dahlin, and everyone else. While this isn’t particularly uncommon for the Sabres, his 1-2 support cast members missing adds even more of a workload for No. 26. Further, the other five members of the defensive roster will have to make up for the missing attributes of their companions in the press box.

The less effective way to go about this is to try to have one or two guys step up and fill the void. Instead, a by committee approach is essential for the current talent available. Against the Canadiens who have a lighter version of the same structure with Matheson running the show and the rest acting as a support cast, the Sabres defensive core have to just break even. If they break even, UPL has been good enough that he can give the Sabres a win. 

3. Skinner’s Point Team

Every player in the NHL who has played for a sustained period of time has a favorite team or two that they love playing against. Perhaps this is because they get to go home to family, a former team with many friends, a city they love to visit, or because they know they have that team’s number. For Jeff Skinner, that team is the Montreal Canadiens. From his 18 year old season to now, he has always found a way to find the back of the net against the “bleu, blanc et rouge” of the Montreal Canadiens.

According to statmuse.com, in 41 games, he has scored a total of 46 points against the Canadiens, including 26 goals. This puts him at a 1.12 PPG pace against the Habs. In comparison to the rest of his career, Skinner has 658 points in 979 games, for around 0.67 PPG pace, which is almost half of the rate that he produces against the Canadiens. 

It will be fun to see if this trend continues for the rest of his career. Hopefully tonight this elevated production is proven true and Skinner can silence the Bell Centre and continue to infuriate their fans. 

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres


Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

Jordan Greenway – Casey Mittlestadt – Dylan Cozens 

Zach Benson – Peyton Krebs – JJ Peterka

Eric Robinson – Zemgus Girgensons – Kyle Okposo 


Rasmus Dahlin – Henri Jokiharju

Jacob Bryson – Connor Clifton 

Ryan Johnson – Erik Johnson


Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (projected starter), Eric Comrie

Montreal Canadiens


Cole Caufield – Nick Suzuki – Juraj Slafkovsky 

Joshua Roy – Alex Newhook – Josh Anderson

Joel Armia – Jake Evans – Brendan Gallagher

Tanner Pearson – Brandon Gignac – Jesse Ylonen 


Michael Matheson – David Savard

Jayden Struble- Kaiden Guhle

Arber Xhekaj – Jordan Harris


Samuel Montembeault (projected starter), Jake Allen

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