Buffalo is 5-2-1 in its last eight games, while Montreal has lost six of seven and has been outscored 24-7 during that span.
“I just try to go out there and perform well when I get the chance,” said Noronen, who was making his fourth start of the season. “I got some good bounces and they hit a couple of posts. When you play well you need some luck, too.”
Koivu, Montreal’s leading scorer last season, made his first appearance of the season after missing 13 games because of a knee injury. He played on a line with Donald Audette and Richard Zednick, logging close to 20 minutes of ice time.
“It felt better than I expected,” said Koivu, who also expressed his frustration. “It just seems we’re not getting the bounces and the puck’s not going in for us.”
Briere opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 4:37 of the second period. He took a pass behind the goal line from Chris Drury, skated toward the side of the net and jammed the puck underneath goalie Jose Theodore.
“I just took it to the net,” Briere said. “It took a few seconds to realize that it went in.”
Kotalik made it 2-0 midway through the period, beating Theodore with a backhand shot.
Audette completed the scoring with 6:26 left in the third.
“In order for us to win we need guys to compete and I need Yanic to compete harder,” Julien said. “It wasn’t a message to Yanic, it was a message to the team.”
The Canadiens apparently got the message in the first period, outshooting Buffalo by a 13-3 margin. Noronen, however, was able to keep the game scoreless.
“Mika’s goaltending gave us a chance to stay in the game,” Briere said. “Montreal was playing better than we were. They had more jump and better support all over the ice.”
After starting the season 5-2, the Canadiens are desperately searching for answers. On Friday, they thought they had some as they outshot the Sabres 37-17.
“The reason we’re losing some of the games is not because of a lack of effort,” Julien said. “We’re just not putting the puck in the net.”
The Sabres have won eight of their last nine games against Montreal, including five consecutive victories at home. The two teams meet again Saturday night in Montreal.
“A home-and-home series against a divisional rival is important,” Sabres’ defenseman Jay McKee said. “We wanted to win this game because you don’t want to go into their building down a game.”
Montreal pulled Theodore with a minute remaining but were only able to muster one shot, which Noronen pushed aside.
“I thought it was a great performance by Mika,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “He was very solid. That was comforting to get that type ofperformance.”
Audette had what appeared to be a cyst surgically removed from his neck Wednesday. He said that he feels fine and is awaiting test results. …Montreal D Stephane Quintal was scratched because of the flu.