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Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres: Five things you should know

Detroit Red Wings centre Christoffer Ehn pursues Montreal Canadiens centre Jonathan Drouin as he carries the puck up the ice in Montreal on Oct. 15, 2018.

Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Sabres game Thursday at the KeyBank Centre in Buffalo (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio):

The matchup: The Canadiens go on the road for a pair of games against Atlantic Division rivals — they’re in Boston Saturday — and they hold down one of the top spots in the division with a 5-1-2 record after beating the Calgary Flames 3-2 Tuesday. The Sabres had the worst record in the NHL last season, but they have had a competitive start to the season with a 5-4 record. The Sabres are well-rested and are riding a modest two-game win streak after beating Anaheim 4-2 Sunday to cap a five-game, 10-day road trip.

Good time for Niemi: Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has to find opportunities for backup goaltender Antti Niemi and he agreed with a suggestion that this is one of those games. Niemi, who won his first two starts this season as a fill-in for Carey Price, has a 2.18 career goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in eight career games against Buffalo. The only time he faced Buffalo as a Canadien was on March 23, when the Canadiens went to KeyBank Centre and Niemi made 35 saves to complete a season sweep of the Sabres with a 3-0 win.

Domi, Drouin connect: Jonathan Drouin and newcomer Max Domi have found some chemistry in the five games they have played together. Drouin has points in each of those games and has collected three goals and four assists. During the same stretch, Domi has scored twice and added three assists. Domi has eight points (two goals) on the season and shares the team scoring lead with Tomas Tatar (three goals) and defenceman Jeff Petry (one goal). It should also be noted that Drouin has a 54.2 per cent success rate on faceoffs, the only Canadien regularly taking draws who is above 50 per cent.


Rookie watch: This game will feature two of the top three picks in this year’s entry draft. Buffalo’s reward for finishing last in the NHL was Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who was the consensus top prospect. Dahlin has averaged a shade over 19 minutes a game playing on the third pair and has one goal and two assists in nine games. The Canadiens counter with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was No. 3 overall. The plan was for the 18-year-old centre to go back to Finland, but he has shown that he belongs in the NHL and has picked up three assists in eight games.

The other guys: Jack Eichel, who was the consolation prize when the Edmonton Oilers snatched Connor McDavid in the 2015 entry draft, is off to a point-a-game start with three goals and six assists in nine games. The Sabres’ leading goal-scorer is Jeff Skinner with five. Skinner, 26, was acquired from Carolina in a midsummer trade because the Hurricanes weren’t sure they could re-sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent next July. Former Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu is a question mark for this game. He has missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury.

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