MONTREAL – Ryan Miller is getting the hang of protecting one-goal leads in Montreal.
The Sabres netminder made 29 saves for his league-leading fifth shutout of the season as Buffalo extended its winning streak to four games on Sunday afternoon with a 1-0 victory over the Canadiens.
Tim Connolly scored the game’s only goal in the second period.
Miller’s two best saves came off Mike Cammalleri in the final minute of regulation with Montreal pressing, foiling the Habs sniper on a one-timer with about 40 seconds to play and a dangerous wrist shot with just over 10 seconds remaining.
“He just kind of gets lost out there,” Miller said of Cammalleri. “I knew somebody was there for a shot and it was probably him, I kind of saw him disappear while the puck was on the other side.”
On the Sabres last trip to Montreal on Dec. 14, Miller stopped Cammalleri on a similar one-timer with 19 seconds left in regulation to preserve a 4-3 victory.
Miller’s late-game heroics improved his record to 23-8-3 for the division-leading Sabres (26-11-4), who are now seven points clear of the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division.
Cammalleri, who generally loathes giving goalies much credit, admitted Miller got the better of him.
“He was good again,” said Cammalleri. “Obviously he was really good, because we didn’t get any by him. We don’t want to be giving up shutouts, that’s not good, but he was good.”
Carey Price made 29 saves in goal for the Canadiens (21-20-3), but he still lost for the fifth time in his last six starts.
“I felt good, the guys played well, they let me see the puck,” said Price, who played for only the second time in eight games. “We had good puck possession, which makes it a lot easier on our team. It just didn’t translate into goals for us.”
The Canadiens returned home from a season-long seven-game road trip sandwiched around the Christmas break with a sparkling 6-1-0 record, but their troubles at the Bell Centre continued.
The Habs fell to 9-10-2 at home by losing their fourth straight in front of their fans, but Montreal coach Jacques Martin was still encouraged by his team’s effort.
“We haven’t been here for two weeks,” said Martin said. “We won six on the road and we have different people in the lineup now. I thought we played a pretty good hockey game today, it could have gone either way. We just need to keep building, keep getting better.”
Nowhere is the disparity between the Canadiens play at home and on the road greater than on the power play.
Montreal entered Sunday’s game with the NHL’s top power play at 25.2 per cent, a surge fuelled by scoring 11 times on 22 chances over the seven-game road trip.
But at the Bell Centre, where Canadiens fans can often get impatient during a man advantage, the Habs are only clicking at a 16.4 per cent rate after Sunday’s 0-for-2 performance.
The game was the first time Habs defenceman Andrei Markov played at home this season. He returned from severed tendons in his leg suffered in the season’s opening game in Toronto in the first game of the most recent road trip. Montreal’s shutout loss put an end to his seven-game point streak (three goals, eight assists).
The Canadiens controlled much of the play early on and had the bulk of the scoring chances, but were unable to solve Miller. He stopped Tomas Plekanec all alone in front early in the first, Benoit Pouliot on a bang-bang play late in the first. Pouliot was again stopped early in the second.
“In the first period we took the play to them, we had a lot of energy in our game, that sense of desperation that seems to be so key for us,” added Cammalleri. “In the second and the third, for whatever reason, it didn’t continue that way.”
Miller’s play allowed the Sabres to take advantage of their first quality scoring chance of the game to go ahead 1-0 in the second.
Jason Pominville capitalized on a Josh Gorges pinch to create a 2-on-1 break. Pominville deftly got the puck over to Connolly, who tipped it off the post before banging in the rebound for his 11th of the season at 6:56 of the second.
It was Connolly’s fifth goal in his last six games, matching his total through the first 35 games of the season. Pominville has two goals and four assists over that same six-game span.
NOTES: The Habs were missing D Ryan O’Byrne (personal) and wingers Andrei Kostitsyn (lower body) and Sergei Kostitsyn (lower body). … Montreal D Paul Mara returned to the lineup after missing the last five with a left hand injury. … Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta (leg) sat out, while D Andrej Sekera and D Nathan Paetsch were healthy scratches. … Connolly is one goal short of 100 in his career. … Jochen Hecht got an assist on Connolly’s goal, meaning the Sabres are now 14-0-0 when he gets a point. … Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak was given the Molson Cup award for December for getting the most three-star selections in the month. Halak was 6-3-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in December.