Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez (11) is stopped by Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) during first period National Hockey League actionTuesday, October 18, 2011 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL - On a night when the Buffalo Sabres were not at their best, veteran goaltender Ryan Miller stepped up to steal a victory.
Jordan Leopold and Thomas Vanek scored in the second period and Miller turned aside 40 of 41 shots as the Sabres downed the struggling Montreal Canadiens 3-1 Tuesday night.
The Canadiens (1-3-1) controlled most of the play and had numerous scoring chances, but only first-year defenceman Rafael Diaz was able to beat Miller for his first NHL goal.
''Ryan basically stole us this one,'' said Sabres captain Jason Pominville. ''He played great.
''He's been playing great for a while now and you get to know what to expect out of him. He comes in to battle. He never gives up on any shot. He made a couple of big saves to keep us in there. Our penalty killing was pretty good. And we were fortunate to score when we needed to.''
When asked if he played the thief for his teammates, Miller elected to deflect the question.
"That's hockey," he said. "It's a 60 minute game. I though we were much better later in the game but they were really solid early."
Christian Ehrhoff had an empty-net goal for the Sabres (4-1-0), who had 23 shots on Carey Price.
The Canadiens, coming off a 6-5 shootout loss to Colorado, have yet to win on home ice in three tries this season.
But coach Jacques Martin was not upset with the effort this time.
''To me, we played the way we need to play,'' he said. ''We got the puck behind the defence, we forechecked, we got good chances. But sometimes you don't get the result.
''I like how we played. We've played four excellent periods in a row and we have to keep it going.''
The Canadiens have outshot their opponent by at least 13 shots in each of their four losses.
Montreal's only goal 2:08 into the second came when Diaz came off the bench and broke in alone on the right side to take Max Pacioretty's pass, wait for Miller to move, and score with a quick shot.
The Swiss defenceman had a big smile on the bench after the goal, but was not so happy later.
''We lost the game,'' he said. ''I think it’s more important that we win as a team.
''For sure that moment was nice, but it’s better that we win the game and I get my goal in some other game.''
Pacioretty led the Montreal atack with nine shots on goal.
The Sabres tied it at 12:11 when Drew Stafford's shot from a bad angle was redirected into the slot by Montreal goaltender Carey Price, where Leopold was left alone to score.
The game-winner came in the dying seconds of the period after Josh Gorges needlessly iced the puck.
The Sabres struck on a set play off the face-off, as Paul Gaustad won the draw and Vanek was alone on the left side to drill in his fourth in five games with three seconds remaining. Rookie defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani, playing his first NHL regular season game in his home town, picked up an assist.
''They iced the puck and we were able to go out there and get a look that we were able to talk about before and we were able to execute it,'' said Pominville. ''It was a great shot by Vanek too.''
He was not so pleased with the performance of his line with Vanek and rookie Luke Adam, even though they combined for six shots and got the game-winner.
''We contributed tonight but we didn't play a good game at all,'' he said. ''We weren't able to do much 5 on 5.
''We made a good play on the goal. Thomas made a great shot. But I still think 5 on 5 we didn't create as much as we usually do.''
The Sabres have won the opening two games of a four-game road trip that takes them to Florida on Thursday and Tampa on Saturday. As they started the season with two wins in Europe, the schedule has them playing only one of the first seven games in their home rink. They lost that one 3-2 to Carolina last weekend.
The Canadiens, who play at Pittsburgh on Thursday before returning home against Toronto on Saturday night, looked much improved on the power play from previous games but still went 0 for 5. They are 2 for 21 for the season.
''We're trying different people in different positions,'' said Martin. ''It's still not clicking but we're working on it.''
The last time Montreal had only win after five games was in 1999-2000. They missed the playoffs that season.
Notes: Martin said defenceman Andrei Markov will not return before the end of October from knee injury suffered last season. . . Defenceman Hal Gill played his 999th career game and should reach 1,000 Thursday in Pittsburgh. . . Sabres Jochen Hecht (head) is close to a return but remains out of the lineup. . . Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo received a long standing ovation in a pre-game ceremony for setting the CFL career passing record.