Carey Price is trying to put a tough postseason behind him. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, want nothing more than to experience what the playoffs feel like again.
After a strong season debut, Price will likely be in net again for the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night against a Sabres team hoping some added bulk will help it start on a positive note.
Montreal got a solid effort from Price in its season opener, winning 4-3 in overtime at Toronto on Thursday night.
Following an offseason filled with questions about his play, Price stopped 43 shots in his first meaningful game since he gestured to Montreal fans while getting booed during a first-round playoff loss to Boston in April. Price posted a 4.11 goals-against average as the Canadiens got swept and he was pulled after two periods in Game 2.
Price, though, wasn’t at fault for either of the first two goals allowed Thursday, and he was the main reason Montreal kicked off its season with a victory.
“The truth is that we expect him to do that from time to time because that’s how good he is,” Canadiens winger Mike Cammalleri said.
Cammalleri, signed as a free agent in July, had two assists and was among the new Canadiens that helped provide optimism. He assisted on the winning goal, scored by defenseman Josh Gorges with 12.8 seconds left in OT.
Free-agent pickups Brian Gionta and Travis Moen scored in their debuts for the Canadiens, but Montreal lost All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov for at least four months after he sliced a tendon in his ankle.
The Canadiens will now face goaltender Ryan Miller, who leads the Sabres’ quest to make the postseason for the first time in four years.
“The summer was long,” Buffalo center Paul Gaustad said. “We’ve had two in a row now, and that’s not acceptable. It can’t be all talk, it’s got to be action.”
With speedy wingers, the Sabres reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2007, but they’ve since become a team that wants to play with grit and toughness. Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier signed free-agent Steve Montador to bolster a defense that struggled at times last season as the team finished 41-32-9.
The Sabres also signed rugged winger Jeff Cowan, who has 203 penalty minutes in 88 games.
“There were games where we were in … a couple of times and I thought maybe, with a little bit more size, we would’ve been able to push through,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “If you look at where the league has gone, it just seems that some of the grit is getting back into the game again, and I think the bigger guys seem to be pushing ahead of the smaller skilled players.”
The Sabres’ top prospect is 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers, who made the team after a stellar 2008-09 season at Kelowna, where he led the Rockets to the WHL championship. Myers, the 12th overall pick in the ’08 draft, is an inch shorter than Boston’s Zdeno Chara, the NHL’s tallest player.
A more physical style of play should help a team that relies so heavily on Miller, a candidate to be the top goalie on the U.S. Olympic team. He had a 2.53 GAA last season, and the Sabres went 7-14-3 when he didn’t receive a decision.
Offensively, Buffalo is again paced by center Derek Roy. He has led the team in scoring the past two seasons, including 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 2008-09.
Roy is complemented by winger Thomas Vanek, who has scored 40 goals in two of the last three seasons. He has 65 power-play goals in four seasons.
Vanek, though, has been held off the scoresheet in each of his last four games versus Montreal. Still, Buffalo won last season’s series 4-1-1.