Jocelyn Thibault knew the deal when he signed with the Buffalo Sabres. Ryan Miller was the undisputed No. 1 goaltender, and Thibault would get about 20 starts this season.
But as the Sabres worked a shaky Miller back into form, Thibault found himself watching more than expected. He played only twice in the first 20 games, and if that pace were to continue, Thibault would make just eight starts this season.
He'll always remember the third one, however. It was the special kind of night that can make a player forget about all the disappointment that comes from sitting around.
Thibault returned to his hometown of Montreal and stopped all 23 shots he faced, backstopping the Sabres to a 3-0 victory over the Canadiens. The win was a season-high fourth straight for the Sabres, who moved back to .500 at 10-10-1.
And while the Sabres still are more concerned about team goals, they reveled in the fact that Saturday belonged to Thibault.
"I just felt comfortable out there," he said. "I didn't know that it was going to be a shutout, but I knew that I was going to play a solid game. But the guys were so good in front of me that it was a pleasure to be there."
The 32-year-old Thibault was born in Montreal, and he played 158 games for the Habs from 1995 to '98. But his appearances in his hometown have been scarce since. Saturday's start was just his fifth in Montreal since he was traded. He hadn't played in front of the locals since Jan. 26, 2003.
He got 15 tickets for his close friends and family, and he was thrilled to be able to treat them to a shutout.
"It's always fun to play here," Thibault said. "All the hard work I put in, we get rewarded on nights like that. But I think there's no doubt the guys gave a little extra for me tonight. They really played hard."
Thibault improved to 5-5-1 against Montreal, and three of his victories are shutouts. This was the second in Montreal.
Thibault, who has 38 career shutouts, had spent the previous eight games watching Miller move back toward all-star form, and he'd started just once since Oct. 19. It didn't affect him.
"I was thrilled for him," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, "for some of the saves he made and being rewarded for all the work he put in."
It was clear longtime Canadiens fans remembered the netminder, as the derisive chants of "Thi-bault" started early. As the saves piled up, the chanting subsided.
The Sabres gave Thibault all the offense he'd need in the second period, scoring twice.
Jaroslav Spacek opened the scoring with 10:22 left in the second, capitalizing just nine seconds into a power play. The Sabres won a faceoff in the Montreal zone, and Brian Campbell took a blast from the point. It hit Ales Kotalik and ricocheted off the post.
Spacek pinched from the blue line and was able to get the puck behind Cristobal Huet despite shooting from a bad angle.
Thomas Vanek scored for the second straight night to make it 2-0. It's the first time this season he's scored in back-to-back games. He has a four-game point streak with two goals and four assists.
Jochen Hecht added an empty-netter with 26.3 seconds left.
"I think we got rewarded again, and [Thibault] played really well back there, so that helped," Vanek said.
It wasn't all good news. The Sabres lost defenseman Henrik Tallinder in the last ticks of the second. He was hit hard twice in the final 11 seconds, first by 222-pound Guillaume Latendresse then by 224-pound Alexei Kovalev. He declined comment with his right arm in a sling and an ice pack on his shoulder.
"He hurt a shoulder," Ruff said. "We don't know how long it will be, but it will probably be some time. Right now we're looking at days, and we'll get an update probably when we get back."
>Sabres 3, Canadiens 0
Slap shots: Sabres' winning streak reaches season-high four games. ? Thibault excels in his hometown in just his third start of year. ? Sabres lose Tallinder to injury in final seconds of second period.
Fast fact: Jaroslav Spacek becomes ninth player to score a game-winning goal; Sabres have 10 wins.
Next: Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. Monday in Verizon Center.