Canadiens-Flyers: Leighton's Second Shutout Puts Habs in 2-0 Hole

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IMay 19, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 18:  Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks during a break in play against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 18, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Well, that was better than last game, but not by much.

While the effort from the Canadiens was missing in Game One against the Flyers, last night you could not make the same complaint.

The Canadiens tried.

There was effort there. However, they were still completely ineffective and were shutout for the second straight game.

While many will be pointing to Michael Leighton this morning as the goaltending savior for the Flyers, the fact is that the Canadiens have done nothing but make things easy on him.

While the Habs did play with determination last night, they still refused to go to the net and were essentially a bunch of perimeter players.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you do not score many goals on NHL goaltenders with shots from the outside.

The familiar recipe from Game One repeated last night with the Flyers scoring two of their three goals on the power play—they now have four goals on eight power play opportunities for a 50 percent success rate.

The Flyers got goals from Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino—a rare weak goal allowed by Jaroslav Halak.

Final score: Flyers 3-Habs 0.

Game Notes

1. Halak is not the problem.

OK, let me start by saying that Halak has not been the peak of perfection so far in this series. Let me continue by saying that the third Flyers goal—from the outside on a narrow angle—was bush-league and would have been stopped by a minor league goaltender.

That being said, we must remember that if it was not for Halak, the Canadiens would not have made the playoffs to start with and would not have beaten either the Caps or the Pens.

In addition, we must keep in mind that the Canadiens have yet to score a goal in this series.

So while many will be asking whether the Canadiens should play Halak or Carey Price tomorrow night, I think the question is not even worth asking.

The only way Price gets the start is if the coaching staff sees or knows that Halak is tired and needs a break. They do not put Price in the net based on Halak's play so far.

Halak has gotten the team this far and it is his series to lose.

2. Leighton? Really?

Newsflash people: Michael Leighton is not the second coming of Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.

While he is clearly a serviceable NHL goaltender, the Canadiens have not done any of the things that are necessary in order to score at this level.

Sure they outshot the Flyers 30-23, but how many of those shots were dangerous, second chances, recouped rebounds, deflections, or shot through screens?

None, or very close to none.

People will point to the three saves that Leighton made on Michael Cammalleri during a first period Habs power play as evidence of his excellent play.

I say, watch that replay.

The first shot was along the ice, right into his pad, the first rebound was along the ice right into his pad, and the second rebound was along the ice right into his pad.

To Leighton's credit, his positioning was solid and he was in the right spot. That being said, none of those three shots by Cammy were dangerous.

3. The Flyers are giving the Habs a taste of their own medicine.

Whereas the Habs spent the first two rounds taking away the middle of the ice, pushing the Caps' and Pens' skilled players to the outside, scoring opportunistic goals on their few scoring chances and the power play, the tables have clearly been turned on them in this round.

The Flyers combination of grit, size, and skill on defense has turned the entire Canadiens offensive corps into perimeter players.

As a result, the small but speedy Habs players are taking shot after shot from 30 or more feet out, from the outside, with no one in front of or going to the net.

For the Habs to be successful, they need to start chipping the puck into the corners and creating foot races with the Flyers defenders. This is where the Habs strength lies as they are much faster than the Flyers, overall.

If they can create foot races, this will lead to defensive zone break down, odd man situations, and much more room to maneuver.

Instead, they seem content to look for the perfect, pretty play.

How many times last night did we see a Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, or Maxim Lapierre get the puck in the corner and sweep behind and around the net, rather than driving straight towards it?

There is a mental block with the Habs, as they are not currently willing to try to drive to the net and get abused. So, instead they sweep around and throw it out front to a sea of waiting orange sweaters with nary a red one in sight.

The result? Two consecutive shutouts for the Flyers, a highly successful power play, a few lucky goals, and a 2-0 series lead.

4. Scott Gomez again sunk his team.

Not only is he ineffective on the attack and the penalty kill right now, but so far in this series Gomez has taken a series of boneheaded penalties that have cost the Habs dearly.

Again, yesterday, Gomez took an early penalty that sent the Flyers to the pp and a quick 1-0 lead in the game. That Flyers' goal was the only one scored in a first period where the Canadiens outshot them 16-6.

There is a big difference between outshooting your opponent and being tied 0-0 than down by one goal.

5. Speaking of waking up, it is time for Jacques Martin to do just that.

Before yesterday's game, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that 6'5", 250 lbs Ryan O'Byrne would be in the Habs lineup that was in desperate need of size.

However, not only was O'Byrne not in the lineup but Sergei Kostitsyn—whose attitude was deemed so bad recently that he was effectively kicked off of the team—was in the lineup instead.

As expected, SK74 played without heart, emotion, or any sign that he gave a crap for all of his 4:57 of ice time.

So my question is that if Coach Martin is intent on playing Marc-Andre Bergeron on defense—a position that he is ill equipped to play—then why not put O'Byrne on the fourth line as a forward with the mission of body checking Pronger, or any other Flyers defenseman, every chance he gets?

I think he'd also look pretty good parked in front of Leighton—a position that no other Habs forward took up all night long.

Look Out Ahead!

Look out indeed, as the Canadiens are in an early hole just when you thought they had some momentum.

You get the impression with this series that once or if the Canadiens finally score, the floodgates might open up. As good as Leighton has been, he is still a goaltender who has an up-and-down history of inconsistency.

If the Canadiens can get a few by him, maybe he gets out of his comfort zone and starts to think too much. If that happens, anything is possible. But the Canadiens need to get in his face if they want any chance of knocking him off of his game.

Go to the net, make contact with the goaltender, give him a snow wash, and do something, anything to make his life difficult.

If the Habs continue to be spectators and take shots from the outside, I would be surprised if they win even one game in this series. If they change that tendency and start going to the net they still stand a fighting chance.

Next Game

The teams now travel to Montreal for games three and four of this series.

The boisterous atmosphere of the Bell Center might be just what the doctor ordered for a Habs team who look frustrated, but not angry.

Anger is the emotion they need to start exhibiting in order to have success, but frustration seem to be the one guiding them right now.

They say that you're never in trouble in the playoffs until you lose a game on home ice. While that tends to be true, I believe that given the way the Canadiens have played so far, they are already in trouble.

If they don't change their ways on Thursday night, this could be a four game sweep where the Habs don't score a goal for the entire series.

Let's hope that they shake things up for Game Three and get a lucky bounce or two. We all know they could use one!

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