Alex Tuch scores short-handed winner, Sabres top Canadiens 3-2

MONTREAL — On a night the Montreal Canadiens' first line dried up, the Buffalo Sabres' top trio led their team to victory.

Alex Tuch scored a short-handed game-winner late in the second period and Jeff Skinner produced his 27th career goal against Montreal as the Sabres topped the Canadiens 3-2 on Wednesday night at Bell Centre.

Skinner’s 27 goals are the second-most among active players against the Canadiens behind Alex Ovechkin (38). Zemgus Girgensons also scored for Buffalo (25-27-4), which kicked off its Dads’ trip with a win.

"I thought our battle level was high through the start,” Sabres head coach Don Granato said. “We had to weather a storm in segments, but the guys stayed with it — and the (Tage) Thompson, Tuch and Skinner line was very good."

As for the Canadiens’ top line, Nick Suzuki's 10-game point streak came to an end, while Juraj Slafkovsky’s run of eight games was also brought to a halt. Cole Caufield went pointless for just the third time in 16 games.

It was the first time all three players were held off the scoresheet since Jan. 6.

For that, Granato gave all the credit to his netminder and his 29 stops.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was on this game. I mean, he had to make several nice saves," Granato said. "Obviously they made some nice plays, so you have to have a good goaltending performance if you're gonna do that."

Arber Xhekaj and Jayden Struble replied for Montreal (22-26-8), which lost a third game in a row and its fifth in six outings. Joshua Roy pitched in with two assists and Sam Montembeault made 20 saves.

The Sabres jumped two points ahead of the Canadiens as both teams entered the evening with 52 points in 55 games.

"They're a good team, they got a lot of good players," Suzuki said about the Sabres. "I think their spot in the standings doesn't really say what kind of team they are."

Xhekaj opened the scoring 12:41 into the first period for his third of the season and second in two games.

Much like his goal against Washington on Saturday, Xhekaj wound up for a one-timer from the point and blasted a feed from Roy into the top corner.

Skinner nearly got Buffalo on the board later in the period after deking out Montembeault on a wraparound, but Canadiens defenceman Mike Matheson met the Sabres forward on the goal line.

Girgensons eventually tied it 4:20 into the second, but Struble regained Montreal’s lead at 6:35 with a wrist shot that deflected off Sabres forward Peyton Krebs and fooled Luukkonen.

Buffalo, however, tied it up again as Skinner buried a rebound on the power play for his 18th at 9:28 to snap a nine-game goal drought.

“I didn’t say anything to him, but I said it to a couple people, ‘Here we go, here we go, Skinny’s gonna have a game today,'” Tuch said. “I thought he got some confidence back with that goal. No one’s harder on himself than Jeff, he really cares.”

Xhekaj, doing more than contributing on the scoresheet, threw his weight around throughout the night and levelled Girgensons in open ice.

The six-foot-four, 240-pound Xhekaj also got into it with six-foot-six, 231-pound Sabres forward Jordan Greenway on numerous occasions, though the two never fought.

“One of the better ones for sure,” Xhekaj said of where his performance ranked in his young career. "Plays are just coming to me and hits were just coming at the right time, so I think it was a good confidence game."

The Sabres took their first lead of the game with Tuch scoring down a man with 1:52 left in the second after a dismal Canadiens power play that included three turnovers by Caufield — the third leading to the goal.

The Canadiens dominated play through most of the third, holding the Sabres without a shot in the first 12 minutes.

Anderson had another chance midway through the period with a deflection from the high slot, but Luukkonen flashed the leather to retain Buffalo’s lead.

"Their goalie made a few really big saves down the stretch and early on, so you gotta give a little bit of credit,” Suzuki said. “But there's some chances where we missed the net and we've just got to execute a little bit better."

Thompson took a slashing penalty with 1:34 left to give Montreal a 6-on-4 advantage with an extra attacker.

The Canadiens, however, couldn’t sustain much zone time before Slafkovsky took a penalty for hooking with 25 seconds left.


Canadiens: Open a two-game road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

Sabres: Wrap up a two-game road trip Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press