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(Paul Chiasson)
(Paul Chiasson)

Sabres expect desperate Habs Add to ...

So let's see, one of these things looks very much like the other.

One bench has a 6-foot-7 defenceman, so does the other. Both have top-drawer goalies, both have at least three players up front listed at 5-foot-9 or shorter.

Both have players born in oddball hockey countries (like Austria and Denmark), both have expensive free agent signings they're trying to work into the mix, both have two Quebec-born guys in the lineup.

Both have young defencemen who are considered among the finest blue line prospects in the game. Both have young power forwards who are in full bloom, both have coaches who have more than 1,000 NHL games on their resumes. Both are stuck with a $7-million plus-a-year player who flatters to deceive.

"You could say we're kind of alike," observed Montreal Canadiens centre David Desharnais. "We're not very big teams, we both use our speed, we both have great goalies."

Added Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, barely 30 minutes later: "They're a little like us in some sense...good team speed, guys on the back end who can join the rush."

But the resemblances, in several important ways, are superficial, which explains why expectations are radically different.

One of the goalies has won the Vezina, the other has not. One team's monster fourth-line centre is a beast on faceoffs and his opposite number, well not so much.

The Habs don't quite have an answer to super-pest Patrick Kaleta, although that may not be a bad thing. But Buffalo actually has seven healthy NHL defencemen, which Montreal does not. And the Sabres aren't deprived of their power-play quarterback and best natural scorer through injury, as Montreal is.

For all that, Ruff said his team is taking nothing for granted in their date with the Habs at the Bell Centre on Tuesday, that Montreal's pride will be a factor and that "you can expect to play a desperate team pretty much every night."

The Sabres have enjoyed a bright start to the season, and are showing signs of returning to the form that saw them contend for the conference championship two seasons ago, and Ruff said he's fine with the pressure of being expected to succeed.

"We talked about it as a team, that we want to embrace the expectations," he said.

Should be interesting to see how the Sabres stack up on Tuesday against the club that is as close to a mirror image as they're likely to find.

"They're a very good team, are they the best in the conference? I guess we'll find out," Desharnais said, "but not until the end of the season."



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