MONTREAL â€” Max Pacioretty led his team to victory with his second hat trick of the season but the Montreal Canadiens’ captain gave all the credit to his two linemates.
Pacioretty scored once per period as Montreal beat the visiting Buffalo Sabres 5-2 on Tuesday night in the first game back for both teams since the NHL all-star break. Despite scoring three times, Pacioretty attributed all his success to linemates Phillip Danault and Alexander Radulov.
“They made it really easy for me,” said Pacioretty, who now leads the Canadiens with 24 goals this season. “We were dangerous pretty much every shift. I’m just very fortunate to be playing with players like that.”
Pacioretty finished with three goals while Radulov and Danault each had two assists.
The captain’s first of the night made it 1-0 at 17:27 of the first period. Pacioretty took a nifty backhand saucer pass from Radulov and roofed the puck on Robin Lehner, who tried a traditional stack-the-pads save but got nowhere near the shot.
“It’s nice to get our line going,” said Radulov. “We got some momentum in the first period”
Pacioretty added his second at 7:48 of the second period, again cashing in a pass from Radulov from behind Lehner’s net. Danault got the play started by poking the puck away from Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno.
“It’s an honour for me to play with Pacioretty and Radulov,” said Danault. “One has a special kind of skill, and the other scores like there’s no tomorrow. I have a lot of respect for them.”
With Montreal already leading 4-0 in the third period, Pacioretty got his stick on a loose puck in a frantic goal-mouth scramble to complete the hat trick.
Montreal is now 11-4-2 in its last 17 games versus Buffalo (20-20-9).
The Canadiens (30-14-7) also benefited from the return of two veteran players on Tuesday and they both got on the score sheet.
David Desharnais was back in the lineup after missing 24 games with a knee injury. The centreman made it 3-0 for the home side in the second period after a bad giveaway by Cody Franson deep in his own zone.
Andrei Markov (lower-body injury) also played his first game in six weeks. Markov had the primary assist on Paul Byron’s tic-tac-toe goal that made it 4-0 for Montreal at the end of the second period.
“We were missing core guys who had fought with us in the last couple of years,” said Pacioretty of Markov and Desharnais. “To get them back gave us a boost and it was nice to see them contribute and get on the score sheet.”
Defenceman Nikita Nesterov made his Canadiens debut after being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning last week. Nesterov, who skated with Markov on the third defensive pairing, finished plus-2 in 14:21 of ice time.
Carey Price was perfect through two periods but Dmitry Kulikov broke his shutout bid with a shot from the point with 3:28 remaining in the game. Brian Gionta added another for Buffalo less than two minutes later.
Price finished with 37 saves for his 23rd win of the season. His counterpart Lehner stopped 30-of-35 shots.
The Sabres and Canadiens met less than two weeks ago, with Buffalo leaving the Bell Centre with a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime victory.
But in Tuesday’s contest the Canadiens secured the lead in the first period and never gave it up.
“We gave them opportunities, we mismanaged the puck, turned the puck over,” said Sabres coach Dan Bylsma. “They had numerous chances in the first period and they just took over in the second period. They hemmed us in the offensive zone.
“We handed them the puck and they capitalized on their chances.”
Notes: Jeff Petry (flu) was not in the lineup for Montreal. Greg Pateryn got the start in his place. â€¦ Before puck drop, the Canadiens held a moment of silence for the victims of Sunday’s Quebec City mosque shooting.
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press