Sabres-Canadiens Preview

The Associated Press

The red-hot Montreal Canadiens have jumped into first place in the Atlantic Division.

Ensuring they remain there for more than 48 hours won't require anything extraordinary - just a win Saturday night against the lowly Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre.

The surge that got the Canadiens (18-9-3) to the top of the division has been more impressive. They're 8-0-1 since Nov. 19 and haven't allowed more than three goals in 13 straight games.

It doesn't seem league-worst Buffalo (6-21-2) should throw them off track. While Montreal can win six straight at home for the first time since a nine-game run to close 2006-07, the Sabres try to avoid a sixth consecutive road loss after dropping the last five by a 17-5 margin.

Thursday's 2-1 home win over Boston extended Montreal's overall winning streak to four while pushing the team one point ahead of the Bruins for the Atlantic lead.

"For us, it was the ideal opportunity to give it our all," defenseman P.K. Subban told the team's official website. "It's really satisfying to know that your team is on top because you worked hard. We're proving day after day that this team is part of the elite in the NHL."

Carey Price made 32 saves to win a sixth consecutive start during the team's streak without a regulation loss, and he hasn't allowed more than two goals in nine straight. His .954 save percentage since Nov. 12 is the league's best.

The win over Boston was Montreal's third in four days, and backup Peter Budaj has made such stretches quite a bit easier on Price and coach Michel Therrien with his 5-1-1 season record and 1.80 GAA.

"There are a lot of things I like about our team this year, starting with our goalies," Therrien said. "They are both playing great hockey and giving us a lot of confidence. Peter Budaj has given us great performances, which lets Carey Price to come out rested and ready every time."

Price has a 1.74 GAA in 13 career home games against Buffalo.

One of the league's best penalty kills also has keyed the recent defensive consistency. The Canadiens' 86.3 percent mark has been bolstered by killing 17 straight over the last six games.

Max Pacioretty has highlighted the Canadiens' play in the offensive zone during the hot streak with nine goals in nine games, including the winner late in the second period Thursday.

The Sabres have won seven of eight in Montreal but only one of their last eight overall. They're the only team in hockey without 20 points, and given the pace at which they've reached 14, they're still a ways off.

Offensive struggles have doomed them all season, but the problem has been magnified recently. They've scored 10 goals in eight games after Thursday's 3-1 home loss to the New York Rangers.

"Sometimes we show it, sometimes we don't," coach Ted Nolan said. "That's been the common theme since I've been here. We try to find that button to push to say, "Let's do it not sometimes but all the time.'"

They typically look to Ryan Miller to earn them the occasional win when in such jams, but he's 2-3-0 with a 3.67 GAA against the Canadiens since the start of last season.

Montreal has won two straight meetings, including 3-1 in Buffalo on Nov. 27, as Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk scored in both.

Sabres winger Matt Moulson also had a goal in last month's matchup and has six points in his last four games against the Canadiens.

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