The Canadiens continued their penalty-killing mastery of Daniel Briere and the Sabres on Saturday night.
MONTREAL - The Canadiens red-hot penalty killing unit hasn't made many friends across the NHL this season. You won't find a place where the Habs PK unit is less popular these days than in the Sabres' dressing room, where photos of Saku Koivu, Radek Bonk, Steve Begin and Co. are likely pinned to a dartboard.
The Eastern Conference leading Sabres may be the highest scoring team in the NHL, but when they run into the Canadiens, they have to find methods other than their power-play to fill the net.
Following their 3-2 shootout win over the Canadiens Saturday night, the Sabres are now 0-for-22 with the man advantage versus Montreal this season and 0-for-26 dating back to 2005-06. The Sabres' last power play goal dates back six games to the third period of a 3-1 home-ice victory over the Canadiens on April 12, 2006, when Daniel Briere snuck one past Cristobal Huet.
"Their penalty kill is really clicking this year," admitted Briere, whose Sabres have not notched a power play goal against Montreal in 18 periods and counting. "With guys like Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller and Doug Jarvis who all killed their share of penalties during their playing days now behind their bench, the Canadiens have three great teachers. That's probably helped them build such a solid foundation to work from."
An important component of that foundation continues to be Steve Begin, whose relentless play characterizes the Canadiens' aggressive penalty killing style this season.
"Right now, we're doing all the little things we need to do in order to win games. We're battling hard, playing well defensively and we're communicating out there," explained Begin. "The Sabres are not one of the top teams in the league for nothing, but we're playing with a lot of intensity right now and we know we can play with these guys tough."
When it comes to playing shorthanded, the Canadiens have played everyone tough. Montreal has, after all, led the league in penalty killing for most of the season while hovering around an impressive 90 percent clip.
Should the Canadiens end up at the top of the NHL's penalty killing heap at season's end, it would mark the fourth time the Habs have ever led the league and the first time in almost 30 years. Since the NHL began keeping power play and penalty killing rankings in 1967-68, the Canadiens boasted the league's top PK unit in 1970-71, 1976-77 and 1978-79. The Canadiens capped off all three of those seasons by raising the Stanley Cup later that spring.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com