Replays showed it to be a blown call, but Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien isn’t one to pass up a teachable moment.
Especially when it comes to defenceman P.K. Subban.
Therrien hasn’t been averse to dispensing tough love toward his blue line phenom. After a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres – during which Subban played nearly all of the final three minutes of regulation – Montreal’s head coach called Subban out for an overly rambunctious attempted check in the extra frame.
“Bad play. We’ll take care of that internally and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” a stony-faced Therrien said.
The play in question?
After the Habs put the pedal down to make up a 2-0 deficit against a game Buffalo Sabres team – despite a terrible first, Montreal sent a barrage of 81 shot attempts at goalie Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres managed only four shots five-on-five in the final 24 minutes of the game – the 23-year-old made the ill-advised decision to launch himself at Sabres forward Mark Pysyk, who took evasive action at the last possible moment.
The referees whistled Subban for high-sticking, even if the replay showed his stick never touched the Sabres forward.
Buffalo, owners of the worst power-play in the NHL, duly scored the winner when Steve Ott chipped a rebound over Carey Price, for his second goal of the game.
It’s revealing Subban came out after the game to face the music and take responsibility “It’s tough in overtime when you’re sitting in the box and you watch them score and win the game. Obviously I didn’t want to put my team down a man at that point in time. It’s a tough play, it’s not a good feeling for me, obviously,” he said.
Subban wouldn’t comment on the ref’s decision, saying “I was all over them all over the game, I probably should have kept my mouth shut more often than not during the game . . . you have to swallow the pill and move on.”
With maturity comes responsibility, and Therrien is evidently trying to show that holding players to accountability isn’t just a slogan with this team.
Having dealt with Subban, he’ll now have to turn to a more nettlesome problem: an anemic start at home against a teetering conference opponent.
While he’s imposing a higher standard, he’ll also want to address the lack of opportunism and finish from his forwards and the 24 missed shots on Enroth, who kept the Sabres in the game despite a few mis-steps.
Though the Habs entered Tuesday’s game on a five-game winning streak and within a couple of points of the conference lead, they were simply terrible in the first period.
The Sabres, who found themselves 29 th in the league at the start of play, opened the scoring when Steve Ott – promoted to the top line in favour of Thomas Vanek – pounced on a turnover from Subban and David Desharnais, and rang a slapper off the post and in behind Carey Price.
In the waning minutes of the period, Tyler Myers’ point shot was deflected past Price by Tyler Ennis to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead.
Shots at that point: 10-7 in favour of Buffalo.
Shots the rest of the way: 24-14 for Montreal.
Rookie Brendan Gallagher breathed some life into the home crowd at the 7:04 mark of the third period by out-witting a pair of Buffalo defenders behind the net to set up Max Pacioretty’s ninth of the season – “Shifty,” Pacioretty said approvingly.
Gallagher is third in rookie scoring, and hauled himself to within a point of Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau and four behind leader Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
About 10 minutes later, it was fellow first-year player Alex Galchenyuk’s turn to set up a goal, whipping a pass from the side boards onto Colby Armstrong’s stick.
It was a simple matter of Armstrong shifting the puck to his back-hand before stuffing it past Enroth for his first Bell Centre goal as a Hab.
“It was great,” Armstrong said of the roar after his tying goal. “It felt good, the reaction of my teammates in the pile.”
The pint-sized goalie saved his best for last, thwarting Gionta with a smart glove save on a tip from the high slot with barely 16 seconds to play.
“I thought it was in,” said Gionta.
Interim Buffalo coach Ron Rolston credited Enroth, who is now 3-0 against Montreal in his career, with salvaging the game, which he hopes will be a building block to bigger things.
“It was huge for us. What you saw there in the latter part of the game is where we’re at right now . . . I like the fact we’re building a resilient nature, but we also have to build the confidence to finish those games off,” he said.
That the Habs escaped with an overtime point matters in the standings – they remain ahead of the Boston Bruins for the division lead – but it did little to lift the mood in the dressing room.
“You can’t take periods off in this league. You can’t just expect to come out and it happens, you have to work for everything you get . . . it’s going to happen, but at the end of the day we have to learn from it,” said Gionta.
That’s not to say there weren’t positives.
Lars Eller once again caught the eye with a strong performance – alongside Galchenyuk and Armstrong – his emergence as a polished two-way centre continues apace.
Though he picked up an assist on the tying goal, his biggest contribution was his general imperiousness with the puck, especially in defensive situations.
“He’s a man on a mission, he’s great to watch, he’s carrying the whole pace out there pretty much single-handedly,” marveled Armstrong.