Like the Sabres, Montreal will open the season without its best player. Carey Price is only sick, however, not injured.
The goaltender has the flu and will miss Thursday’s opener in KeyBank Center. Price, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player two seasons ago, did not travel to Buffalo with the Canadiens.
“He caught a nasty bug, as we're seeing now,” coach Michel Therrien said Wednesday in Montreal. “It's too bad, but there's nothing we can do about it. That's hockey. There will be setbacks.”
It appeared the absence of Price would be a season-welcoming gift to the Sabres, but they lost Jack Eichel to a high-ankle sprain shortly after Montreal’s announcement. Buffalo right wing Kyle Okposo (bruised knee) will also sit out, while center Ryan O’Reilly (back, midsection) is doubtful.
Price missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury, but he went 10-2 with a .934 save percentage before getting hurt. Al Montoya will start for the Canadiens. He is 3-0-2 with a .929 save percentage in five appearances against the Sabres. He signed with the Canadiens this summer after spending the previous two seasons in Florida.
“The start was going to come sooner or later, but it's here now and I'm excited,” Montoya said in Montreal. “I'm ready for it. This is what I've been preparing for. I'm looking forward to stepping onto the ice with this group.”
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner is 2-2-3 in eight appearances against the Habs with a .916 save percentage.
With depleted forward lines, the Sabres will put extra emphasis on their defense corps. Coach Dan Bylsma believes the group – Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges and Cody Franson – is up for the challenge.
“I think you have guys and pairs that can play against anybody in the league, through our top five guys especially, and I think that’s a lot different than we had last year,” Bylsma said.
The Sabres did not do any five-on-five drills Wednesday, so the defense pairs were unclear. Bylsma hinted the duos could be Gorges-Ristolainen, McCabe-Bogosian and Franson-Kulikov.
“I think any one of those pairs could be out on the ice against the top lines and you’re not going to be saying, ‘Get them off the ice,’” Bylsma said.
The coach plans to use his pairs more evenly this season. Ristolainen, who returned to practice after signing a six-year, $32.4 million contract, was 10th in the NHL in ice time last year at 25:16 per game. Bylsma doesn’t want a repeat.
“I don’t anticipate him playing 30 minutes a night for us,” the coach said. “I think it took its toll on him as the year went on. I don’t want to say he’s going to be used in a lesser role, but we don’t need to lean on him for 30 minutes a night and don’t want to lean on him for 30 minutes a night.”
The Sabres will have a party in the plaza prior to puck drop. The festivities, which start at 5 p.m., will feature DJ Kool performing the Sabres’ goal song, “Let Me Clear My Throat.” … This will be the Sabres’ 46th season opener. They are 24-17-4, including 17-8-4 at home. … The 23 players on the Sabres’ opening-day roster have combined to play 6,822 NHL games. That’s 908 more than last year’s roster.