MONTREAL – A comeback victory to start a seven-game homestand was big for the struggling Montreal Canadiens.
Andrei Markov capped a three-goal second period as the Canadiens downed the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Saturday night.
The teams were each a man short as Markov worked a give-and-go with captain Saku Koivu and beat Patrick Lalime for the winner after twice erasing one-goal Buffalo leads.
“Saku made a great play to get the puck to me and I just kept my stick on the ice,” said Markov. “The win was huge for us.
“We’ve been up and down. We’re still looking for our game and I think we can still play better.”
Andrei Kostisyn and Steve Begin also scored for Montreal (13-6-4), which won in regulation time for only the second time in 10 games, but for the second time in their last three.
Thomas Vanek picked up his 16th and 17th goals for Buffalo (11-9-3), which ended a two-game winning streak that following a five-game losing run.
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau made sweeping changes following a 3-0 loss on Friday night in Washington, dropping Mathieu Dandenault back to defence, inserting recent call-up Matt d’Agostini into the starting line-up and taking out struggling defenceman Ryan O’Byrne.
He also shuffled all four lines on a team that had scored only 14 goals in its previous nine games.
“Our attitude was better from the start,” said Carbonneau.
It was the Sabres who scored first on a power play when Christopher Higgins failed to clear the puck at the blue-line and Clarke MacArthur got it to Vanek behind the Montreal defence. Vanek put the puck between his own legs and lifted it past Carey Price on a nifty move at 13:31 of the first period.
“It was a great play by (Jaroslav) Spacek to keep the puck in,” said Vanek. “I was going to go off, but when I saw that, I stayed in front and the puck came to me.
“I knew that if I just turned and shot, Price was pretty solid and I had to put him off because I was in so tight, so I put it between my legs and shot it and it worked out.”
Kostitsyn tied it 2:58 into the second frame on a rush when he backhanded the puck past Patrick Lalime after misfiring on his initial shot
Vanek struck back with a backhand goal at 7:39, but Maxim Lapierre set up Begin for a goal from the slot just after a Buffalo power play ended to tie the game at 13:40. It was Begin’s second goal in his last three games.
That set the stage for Markov’s goal with 1:30 left in the period.
The Canadiens had a chance to pad their lead early in the third frame with a two-man advantage for a full two minutes, but awkward passing, hesitant shooting and a few blocked shots by the Buffalo defence spoiled the opportunity.
“That kind of thing can give you momentum, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” said Lalime.
The rookie d’Agostini, the scoring leader for Montreal’s top farm club in Hamilton, was called up Friday as a neck injury sidelined winger Alex Tanguay. The surprise was that, in only his second career NHL game, Carbonneau kept him on the ice in the final minutes with his team protecting a one-goal lead.
“I was a little surprised – I had trouble getting on the ice in the dying minutes in Hamilton,” the 22-year-old winger said with a laugh. “But we played really solid and we kept them to the outside.”
D’Agostini played on the top line with Koivu and Higgins and didn’t look out of place.
“Our report on him was that he was playing strong defensively and strong on the boards, so I wasn’t worried,” said Carbonneau.
The concern is the power play, which went 0-for-6. Carbonneau tried new people in new positions, including Andrei Kostitsyn and Robert Lang on the point, to no avail. The Montreal power play led the league last season, but now is near the bottom with a success rate below 15 per cent.
While Andrei Kostitsyn had “one of his best games of the season,” according to the coach, his brother Sergei was benched after taking his third minor penalty of the game in the third period. Still, the brothers were each plus-2 for the game.
Notes: With Doug Jarvis attending to a family matter back home in Brantford, Ont., injured defenceman Mike Komisarek went behind the bench as an assistant coach for Montreal. . . Despite his two goals, Vanek will be hard-pressed to catch Rick Martin’s club record for the fastest 20 goals from the start of a season set in 24 games in 1972-73. Vanek has 17 after 23 games. . . Sabres defenceman Craig Rivet got the usual booing Bell Centre fans give former Canadiens on their return with their new team. . . The Sabres return home to face Nashville on Monday. Montreal faces Atlanta on Tuesday night.