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Buffalo Sabres centre Cody McCormick (8) and Montreal Canadiens left wing Travis Moen (32) fight during the second period at the Bell Centre. Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE (Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE/Jean-Yves Ahern)
Buffalo Sabres centre Cody McCormick (8) and Montreal Canadiens left wing Travis Moen (32) fight during the second period at the Bell Centre. Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE (Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE/Jean-Yves Ahern)

Habs hit rock bottom in loss to Sabres Add to ...

One of the drawbacks to having a long and distinguished history is that there are plenty of ignominious records to equal or break.

And so we have the 2011-12 Montreal Canadiens, who have matched the futility displayed by the 1938 edition, who lost their first six home games enroute to finishing dead last in the NHL.

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Since then, no Habs team, no matter how terrible, has dropped their first three games on home ice in a given season.

Until now.

Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, a team the Canadiens thoroughly dominated for all but a few minutes in the second period, will be an especially dispiriting blow for a team that hasn't quite managed to put it together in the opening weeks of the season.

A raft of injuries hasn't helped, but it's a results-oriented business after all, and ground lost in October is hard to make up after Christmas.

There is no sense of panic - at least not yet - but there is disquiet within a team that is now facing the prospect of a road game in Pittsburgh and a home date with the sizzling Maple Leafs to close out this week.

And it looked so promising for the Habs, who had a 14-3 shot advantage after one period - although the game was still 0-0 thanks to Ryan Miller’s heroics, he notably robbed P.K. Subban of what seemed like a sure goal.

They continued pouring it on in the second, and were ultimately rewarded after Andrei Kostitsyn steamrollered Christian Erhoff at the blue line, dished to Max Pacioretty, who in turn set up Swiss defenceman Raphael Diaz, who was streaking down the right side.

Diaz sold Miller on a fake, then stepped out wide and fired past the sprawling goaltender for his first NHL goal.

The usual Bell Centre bedlam ensued.

So dominant were the Canadiens that they built up a 24-8 lead in shots, comprehensively out-classing them in every facet save the power-play, which is now in a two-for-21 rut.

There should have been warning bells in the second when Tomas Plekanec missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 on the power-play, shooting right at Miller presumably because the blue and yellow crest on the goaltender’s shirt attracted the eye more readily than the wide open net behind him.

Sure enough, the Sabres found an equalizer on a broken play where Drew Stafford cruised around Mathieu Darche in the Habs zone, lifted a backhand that hit Carey Price and caromed into the slot where Jordan Leopold was on hand to fire past a static Hal Gill and Price.

And as often happens when a thoroughly dominated team gets a toe-hold, the Sabres were hungry to grab the lead, and with barely three seconds to play in the second, they did.

The Habs’ undoing began with an icing call on the normally steady Josh Gorges at the end of a shift with barely six seconds to play in the period.

Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad stepped in and promptly won the faceoff against David Desharnais (one of only two he won against the diminutive Montreal pivot all night), the puck went from Jason Pominville across to an uncovered Thomas Vanek, who after faking a slapper snapped a wrist shot into the very top corner on the far side of the net.

“Originally I thought Thomas should have one-timed it, but he held it and scored, so I guess it was okay,” smiled Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff.

Vanek said of the set play: “there were six or eight seconds left, so I knew I didn’t have to rush it. Price is big, he squares up well, but I thought if I take my time and out-wait him, maybe I can pick a corner.”

And that, folks, was pretty much the ballgame.

“A goal like that right at the end of the second, that kills you, having to chase the game,” said dejected Montreal captain Brian Gionta, who saw a pair of scoring chances thwarted by Miller in the third period.

The Habs would pepper Miller with 41 shots, but only a couple would prove troublesome, and none would make it past - and over the final 30 minutes of the game, Buffalo would have 20 shots on “I don’t know, I thought we played well in the second half of the game,” Miller said when asked if he’d stolen two points for his team.

There are, of course, positives to take from the Montreal perspective.

Subban didn’t do anything loony or destructive, and was in fact Montreal’s best defenceman - despite finishing minus-2 along with his partner Gorges (one of the goals was an empty netter).

Desharnais, Kostitsyn and Max Pacioretty, Montreal’s best player on the night, were a constant threat, and Carey Price only really made one mistake of note - as is typical of the moment the Habs find themselves in, it was swiftly dumped into his net by Leopold.

Diaz also turned in an excellent performance.

“For sure that moment (the goal) was nice, but it’s better we win the game and I get my goal in some other game,” he said.



Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

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