BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Montreal Canadiens are hoping they avoid leading scorer Tomas Plekanec’s flu bug and catch some of Benoit Pouliot’s scoring fever.
With Plekanec out because of flulike symptoms, Pouliot displayed his scoring touch with two goals, and Jeff Halpern added a goal and two assists in the Canadiens’ 3-2 victory over the slumping Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
“I’m going to try and not talk to (Plekanec) for a while,” Pouliot joked. “When your top line is missing one of the best forwards, other guys have to step up. Today we did, and maybe tomorrow someone else will.”
It also helped that the Canadiens had workhorse goalie Carey Price in net for the 12th time this season. Price made 29 saves—including 15 in the first period when Montreal escaped with a 1-1 tie—to help the Canadiens improve to 8-4-1 and snap a two-game losing streak.
“He was phenomenal,” Halpern said. “His rebound control was excellent, and he smothered the puck when he had to. He’s giving us a chance to win every night.”
Price set the tone with consecutive stops on Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek from in tight midway through the first, then helped preserve the win when he robbed Tyler Ennis on a partial breakaway early in the third.
When Price did give up a rebound, Buffalo couldn’t beat the Montreal defenders to the loose puck.
“Our guys did a great job on that,” Price said. “Anything I left out or anything that squirted out, our guys came back hard.”
Price was able to make the big save at the key time. The same couldn’t be said for Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime, who was playing for injured starter Ryan Miller. Lalime was unable to keep out Pouliot’s stoppable shot from the outside edge of the left circle that proved to be the winner with 2:48 left in the second period.
Lalime wound up with 29 saves for the Sabres, 0-6-1 at home and 3-9-2 overall.
“If we’re going to get out of this, we need that one,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said about Lalime’s whiff on Pouliot’s goal. “We need that one.”
Miller wasn’t in uniform for the second straight game because of a lower-body injury, and also will sit out Saturday night when the Sabres play at Toronto.
Mike Grier had a goal and assist, and Jordan Leopold also scored for Buffalo, which hasn’t been winless in its first seven games at home since 1993-94.
“It’s frustrating when you’re losing games,” Grier said. “You’re in it to win, and we all take pride in being professionals. We think we’re a good team, but right now we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Grier opened the scoring with his first goal of the season with 2:42 left in the first period. Off an odd-man rush, Grier accepted a pass from Ennis in the lower portion of the right circle, pulled the puck to his backhand, and slid it past Price.
The Canadiens tied it 1:22 later when Halpern snapped in a shot from the slot.
Buffalo regained the lead 9:02 into the second when Leopold swatted home a loose puck during a scramble in front, but Pouliot tied it at 2 just 46 seconds later when he pushed the puck in on the backhand from in tight.
Pouliot gave Montreal the lead for good when his second-period shot went in on the short side.
“Sometimes I don’t shoot the puck enough, but tonight on that last goal I just put it on the net,” Pouliot said. “Sometimes you never know what happens.”
NOTES: Buffalo RW Drew Stafford missed most of the second period and all of the third after sustaining an upper-body injury that Ruff said will force the forward to miss some time. … Montreal coach Jacques Martin didn’t know if Plekanec would be able to recover in time to play Saturday against Ottawa. … Ruff coached his 998th NHL game. … Montreal LW Mathieu Darche had two assists. … Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht and Rob Niedermayer are the only two Sabres forwards who have played at least 13 games without scoring a goal. … Plekanec ranks second on Montreal with five goals. … The Canadiens will play six of their next seven at home, where they have a 3-2-1 mark.