Canadiens beat Sabres on Drouin’s shootout goal
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Montreal Canadiens acquired Jonathan Drouin in a blockbuster offseason trade to give their offense a boost.
He is living up to early expectations.
Drouin scored the lone goal in the shootout to lead the Canadiens to a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in the season opener for both teams on Thursday night.
“It’s huge,” Drouin said. “It is important. For the team two points but for me too, you’ve got to feel good about yourself and we definitely feel pretty good ourselves about winning.”
The third overall pick in the 2013 draft displayed an exceptional amount of skill on the winning goal. Drouin froze Sabres goalie Robin Lehner with a fake to the blocker side before switching to his backhand. With Lehner committed, Drouin had an easy finish into the top of the net.
“It was nice to see Jonathan score that goal,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said. “It was a pretty goal in the shootout. It shows you the kind of skill level he’s got.”
Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault scored in regulation for the Canadiens. Carey Price made 43 saves.
The Canadiens acquired Drouin from Tampa Bay in June, giving him a six-year, $33 million deal. The 22-year-old is expected to be a big part of the team’s restructured offense after Montreal’s offense came up short in the postseason last season.
Drouin set up his goal by using previous shootout experience against Lehner to his advantage.
“We had a lot of shootouts against Buffalo as a team for Tampa,” Drouin said. “So I went low blocker a couple of times on him but he stopped them so I think that’s why he kind of bit on that fake shot. He’s seen that low blocker (before).”
Drouin’s goal spoiled a special homecoming for the Sabres’ Jason Pominville. Pominville scored twice in regulation for Buffalo; it was Pominville’s first goals as a Sabre since March 21, 2013. The former captain returned to Buffalo in a June trade with the Minnesota Wild.
“Unfortunately for sure,” Pominville said. “I think we had a good effort. We can build off that for sure. If we have this type of effort every night, we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win.”
It was a promising effort for the young Sabres in their first game under new coach Phil Housley. Buffalo utilized a fast, up-tempo approach that resulted in a more complete effort than most nights from recent seasons.
“I think our guys did a terrific job,” Housley said. “When you look at the game, you think about the game, we outshot a team, we out-chanced the team, we just didn’t beat them on the scoreboard. But I really liked the effort of our guys. You could see things are coming together. We took a step forward tonight.”
Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart came up short on the final shootout attempt for the Sabres. Lehner made 38 saves.
Pominville opened the scoring 8:30 into the game. Pominville collected a pass from Seth Griffith before lifting a high backhand shot over Price’s shoulder.
Pacioretty evened the score with 2:04 remaining in the first following a turnover in the Buffalo end. Brendan Gallagher poked the puck free from Buffalo center Ryan O‘Reilly, and Drouin’s cross-ice setup found Pacioretty alone in the right circle.
Pominville picked up his second goal of the evening 22 seconds into the second period following a highlight-reel setup by Jack Eichel. Eichel spotted Pominville to left of the net from long range, firing a hard pass that Pominville finished with a one-time shot to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead.
“Not many guys can make that kind of pass,” Pominville said.
Danault made it 2-2 with a short-handed goal 8:01 into the third. Danault picked up the puck behind the Buffalo net and beat Lehner with a quick wrap-around, which caught the goaltender off guard.
Buffalo outshot Montreal 45-40 overall.
NOTES: D Zach Bogosian, D Josh Gorges and LW Matt Moulson were scratched for the Sabres. Bogosian is out with a lower-body injury, which he suffered in the Sabres’ final preseason game. Veterans Gorges and Moulson were healthy scratches. ... C Torrey Mitchell, D Joe Morrow and D Brandon Davidson were scratched for the Canadiens. Mitchell played in 60 games for the Sabres from 2013-15. ... The Sabres announced four assistant captains for the season before the game: C Jack Eichel, C Ryan O‘Reilly, D Zach Bogosian and RW Kyle Okposo. They will not have a permanent captain. ... The teams will next meet Nov. 11 in Montreal.