MONTREAL – Greg Stewart picked a good time to score his first NHL goal, even if it was only in the pre-season.
The checking winger lifted a bouncing puck over goaltender Ryan Miller early in the third period to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 comeback victory over Buffalo, handing the Sabres their first loss of the NHL pre-season Saturday night.
Good forechecking from Glen Metropolit and Scott Gomez behind the Buffalo net set up the first goal 23-year-old Stewart has scored in regular or pre-season play with Montreal over the past three seasons. The Kitchener, Ont., native has been up and down from the minors. He had one assist in 20 games for Montreal last season.
“It’s probably 40 games so far, and it’s a big relief to get that off my chest,” the burly winger said. “I’m glad it happened.
“It gave me a bit of confidence, so hopefully I can keep rolling. It was dumped in, I went in on the forecheck, it bounced to Metro and to Gomer and I just tried to get it up.”
Stewart had taken consecutive minor penalties late in the second period, but his teammates killed them off, as they did all six Buffalo power plays.
“After two straight trips to the box, I was out of the play,” added Stewart. “I just tried to stay positive on the bench, chirping to the guys and letting them know they were doing a good job.
“I got myself in the game and the I got that bounce in front of the net.”
He called the shot just under the crossbar a “roof daddy.”
Brian Gionta and Maxim Lapierre also scored for Montreal while Clarke MacArthur and Nathan Gerbe scored for the Sabres.
The Canadiens closed their pre-season schedule at 4-2-1, while Buffalo (3-1-1) has one more game Sunday at Toronto.
The game was only 55 seconds old when Roman Hamrlik, who had yet to play in the pre-season due to a flu, was caught flatfooted at the blue-line by a Chris Butler pass that sent MacArthur in alone to deke Carey Price for a goal.
At 10:30, Gerbe was allowed to cruise in alone and beat Price with a high backhand shot.
Gionta got his fourth of the pre-season on a power play at 12:32 of the second as he was in the slot to finish a tic-tac-toe play with Tomas Plekanec and ex-Sabre Jaroslav Spacek.
Lapierre came out of the penalty box to pick up a puck at the blue-line and blast a shot under Miller’s left arm to tie the game at 19:37.
“I think we’re ready,” said Metropolit. “The chemistry’s evolving a bit.”
Tom Pyatt, obtained with Gomez in an off-season trade with the New York Rangers, left 2:53 into the game after he was hit from behind into the glass by Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta, sparking a fight with Ryan O’Byrne. Kaleta got a game misconduct, while O’Byrne took the instigating penalty. Pyatt is deemed day-to-day with an upper body injury.
O’Byrne’s willingness to defend his teammate was noted by head coach Jacques Martin. The six-foot-five defenceman has had a strong camp and is making a case to be in the top six rearguards for the start of the season.
“What I liked was the way a teammate stepped in after the Pyatt incident,” said coach Jacques Martin. “Ryan is showing a lot of confidence in camp and he’s playing to his strengths – is size, his physical play in front of the net and by standing up for his teammates.”
Martin expects that the league will look at the Kaleta hit to see if there should be a suspension, but either way, he said ‘I liked how we reacted. Several times during training camp teammates have stepped up for each other. It’s good to see.”
Both teams used mainly NHL players, although Mike Cammalleri (lower body), Andrei Markov and Sergei Kostitsyn didn’t play for Montreal and Jochen Hecht, Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder sat out for Buffalo.
Miller and Price went all the way in goal and both had some excellent saves and some lapses.
The Canadiens leave Sunday for Caledon, Ont., for three days of practice and team bonding at a ranch. They start the season with five road games, beginning Thursday night in Toronto and Saturday night in Buffalo followed by games in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. Their home opener is Oct. 15 against Colorado.
“We’ve got a tough start with this road trip, but we’ll see what happens,” said Metropolit. “It’s a challenge.
“It’ll show what we’re made of right away.”