Led by off-season free agent signee Christian Ehrhoff, the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Canadiens 3-1 at the Bell Centre Wednesday night.  It was the second loss in two nights for the Canadiens, who were beaten 6-3 by Dallas on Tuesday.   Ehrhoff scored a goal and assisted on another.  The Sabres third goal was scored into an empty net with two seconds remaining.  P.K. Subban scored for the Canadiens.   The Sabres outshot the Canadiens 25-24.  The three stars were Ehrhoff, David Desharnais and Nathan Beaulieu.

 Adding It Up

The game marked the return of Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges  after months on the shelf following serious injuries and surgery.  The questions surrounding their ability to return to top form were answered quickly.  Both are in top condition.   Gorges’ ice time was 22:40, second among the game’s defensemen.    Pacioretty took six shots on goal and recorded three hits in just over 23 minutes. 

David Desharnais was named the game’s second star.  He filled in for the injured Scott Gomez between Brian Gionta and Pacioretty.  Another game like he had on this night and  critics will demand that he become the permanent centre on that line. 

 The story of this game was 18 year old Nathan Beaulieu.  The Canadiens first round draft pick in June performed like a veteran.   At even strength he was paired for the most part with Gorges.  He took a regular turn on the power play next to P.K. Subban.  All tolled he played almost half of the game (27:15) almost four minutes more than Gorges’ 22:40.  If this game is any indicator  Beaulieu is going to be very good.  However, he will be going back to junior hockey.  He’s listed at 6’1”, but he has an 18 year old’s body at a very spare 184 pounds.  Along with gaining some more experience, he’ll be asked to put on some muscle between now and next year’s training camp.

 Also standing out among the rookies was Brendan Gallagher,  The 5’8” Gallagher, who is also designated for a junior hockey return, played all three forward positions.  He may be on the smallish size but he showed no hesitation to go into the traffic, with three hits and three shots on goal.  His career path, with a probable exception of a trip to the ECHL,   may parallel that of Desharnais.

 Unsung was defenseman Frederic St. Denis.  Martin trusted him with more than his share of penalty killing time, most of it along side Jaroslav Spacek.  Much of the time they were up against the Sabres top line of Roy-Vanek-Pominville.  In his fourth year as a pro, this could be the Greenfield Park native’s make-it/break-it year with the Canadiens.   

It seems to be a battle between Aaron Palushaj and Andreas Engqvist for the role of thirteenth forward on the team.  They are the only players to be used in both Canadiens games.  Unless there’s a trade between now and the season-opener, it looks like the 6’4” Engqvist has the edge.  He logged just shy of 15 minutes to Palushaj’s 11:59.  It may depend on what qualities Jacques Martin wants in his extra forward.  Engqvist brings a defensive component that Palushaj doesn’t have, and we all know the importance Martin places on defense. 

 Most of the veterans did what they were supposed to do.  A workmanlike performance from a reconditioned Jaroslav Spacek.    P.K. Subban scored the only Canadiens goal on a power play and did his best to liven up a game that had settled into tight checking defensive struggle.  Left winger Mathieu Darche, in his 16 1/2 minutes of ice time, put in almost four minutes on the power play and 2:23 killing penalties. 

In goal Peter Budaj played well through the first half of the game.  The game-winning third period Ehrhoff goal scored on Robert Mayer was of the ‘soft’ variety.  Mayer is going to be in a struggle with Peter Delmas for the backup goaltending job in Hamilton and may find himself in Wheeling of the ECHL to start the season. 

Fifty-nine players remain in camp.  The roster won’t be reduced until Tuesday of next week following a home and home set against Ottawa Friday and Saturday and the game against Boston in Quebec City on Sunday.