It is always a big event when the Philadelphia Flyers come to play in Montreal.
With so much playoff bad blood accumulated over the last few seasons, the atmosphere is always charged at the Bell Centre.
Yesterday was no different and the building was rocking as the home town Canadiens took to the ice. Things started off well for the Habs as P.K. Subban delivered a thunderous check on Daniel Carcillo in his first shift. Carcillo, of course, tried to get Subban to fight, but P.K. simply skated away.
After that hit, however, neither team was really able to get much going. The Flyers, who had played the previous night in Pittsburgh, looked sluggish and tired while the Habs looked rusty from three days off from game action.
The Canadiens slowly started exerting more and more pressure as the game went on, and it quickly became apparent the Philly was ripe for the taking. Unfortunately for the Habs, they played a very Jekyll and Hyde game, demonstrating a great nose for the net and cycling with speed, but also turning the puck over and having a myriad of unforced errors.
Philadelphia took the lead with 18 seconds left in the first on a poorly timed dump into the neutral zone by P.K. Subban during a Habs line change. Jeff Carter skated in with the puck and put it past Price to make it a 1-0 game.
The team went back and forth on the scoreboard, despite the Habs outplaying the Flyers for large stretches but goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was the difference maker. Making 38 saves on the night, Bobrovsky kept his team in it while the Habs were barraging the offensive zone.
Ultimately, however, the Canadiens were their own worst enemy last night.
Just after they had tied the game at three, Jaroslav Spacek made an ill advised deep pinch, short-handed, sending an odd-man rush the other way for the winning goal. The Flyers would add one more third period goal to closes things out.
Despite Philly being a visibly tired squad, turnovers by the Canadiens and outstanding goaltending from Bobrovsky delivered their fourth straight win.
Final score: Flyers 5 - Habs 3
Habs' scorers: P.K. Subban (2), Tomas Plekanec (10), Brian Gionta (10)
Flyers' scorers: Jeff Carter (13), James van Riemsdyk (6,7), Nikolay Zherdev (11), Claude Giroux (16)
Three stars: 1. Sergei Bobrovsky, 2. Brian Gionta, 3. P.K. Subban
1. Subban looked more comfortable but is still making too many mistakes.
On the Flyers' first goal, Subban lobbed the puck into the neutral zone while the Habs were changing lines. In effect, he gave the puck to the Flyers with no Habs players in the neutral zone to provide any resistence. This allowed Jeff Carter enough room to skate in and put the puck past Price.
Last period goals always hurt, but they hurt even more when both teams look lost and the Habs were just starting to get a little momentum going. The goal was setup by a lazy play from Subban who should have either re-grouped behind his net or iced the puck along the boards, not up the middle.
With bad plays like this P.K.'s inexperience continues to show. His skill level has never been in question but it is his decision making that leaves much to be desired. Subban's mistakes are magnified since he has returned from his three-game stint in the press box, and you would have think that this is factor of confidence. As much as he is a self-assured individual, he is still human and can be negatively affected by being a healthy scratch.
It's unfortunate because with a goal and an assist last night, P.K.'s night wasn't all bad. The problem is that he had two critical turnovers and both of them ended up in the back of the net.
The Canadiens need Subban to be much better than that and, as a young defenseman, he will learn over time. The problem is that with Markov out of the lineup the Canadiens need more from him now.
To me, this just means that the Habs must absolutely bring in a top-two defenseman before the trade deadline.
2. Max Pacioretty looks like a gamer.
While he and the rest of his teammates played a relatively nondescript first period, Pacioretty showed what has made his so successful in the AHL, during the second and third frames.
With the Canadiens down by two goals around the seven minute mark of the second period, Pacioretty, thinking offensively with two Flyers players right next to him, picked up the puck in the neutral zone and got it up to Gionta rather than sending it back to his defense.
Gionta gained the offensive blueline and passed the puck to Pacioretty who was entering the zone with speed. MaxPac skated the puck into the zone and ground it out in the corner. The result was a beautiful scoring chance as Gomez popped the puck out to Gionta who rung it off of the post.
The play was setup by Pacioretty's gritty, offensive-minded play and his speed and strength were critical factors. More importantly, that shift brought the Habs to life and they started to dominate play with the Plekanec line coming close to scoring on the next shift.
While his play didn't result in a goal, it did setup an excellent scoring chance and shifted the momentum towards the Canadiens. Pacioretty's excellent work continued through the rest of the game and he was clearly the catalyst on the Scott Gomez line who, not coincidentally, were a force every time they were on the ice.
Now, as I cautioned before yesterday's game, we should not get too far ahead of ourselves because this was only one game and Patches needs to be given time to develop. That being said, there is no denying that he was the Habs' best forward last night.
3. The Habs second line was their best line all night.
Speaking of the second line, buoyed by the electrifying play of Max Pacioretty, the Gomez line not only came to life but was actually the offensive spark plug for the Habs.
It's amazing how Gomez is so much better when he is playing with two bonafide scorers rather than one scorer and one grinder—hello Travis Moen!
I am hoping the Jacques Martin keeps this line together because with Pacioretty's obvious enthusiasm coupled with his size, skill and speed, he looks like the perfect compliment for that trio.
Pacioretty's grittiness opened up all kinds of space for Gomez to skate, stickhandle and make plays. And, just like a good defensive line in football giving the quarterback a few more seconds to make the play, Gomez was a better play for it.
4. Andrei Kostitsyn had a rough night.
Before the game, Coach Martin had penciled Kostitsyn in on the fourth line with Jeff Halpern and Maxim Lapierre. Andrei played a few shifts in the bottom-six before being moved back to his habitual position on the top line with Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.
But that didn't last long.
Unfortunately, for AK46, his play was sloppy and while he had a few scoring chances, he had even more turnovers. None were worse, however, than his blatant giveaway that led to a Flyers 3-on-1 break. Were it not for a quick leg save by Price, that one would have been in the back of the net.
While Andrei has played well for large parts of this season, he has also looked lost on too many occasions. There is no disputing AK's skills but as has been the case since the beginning of his career, it is his occasional lack of focus that is disturbing.
Now, in his defense, I am not sure why Martin had him starting on the fourth line to start with as I have liked what I have seen from Kostitsyn all season. He does, after all, have 20 points and is a plus-8, so I am not sure what exactly Martin's problems is with Kostitsyn.
AK46 is not a heart and soul guy like, say, Brian Gionta, and while he has shown tremendous resilience so far this season, Martin could very easily lose him if he continues to treat him this way.
While there is no doubting the success that Martin has lead his team to so far this season, his "one size fits all" approach to managing players is antiquated. People are people and are, more importantly, individuals. As such, I think you are asking for trouble if you try to handle them all in the exact same way.
Playing in a contract year, you have to wonder if Kostitsyn even wants to remain in Montreal whether they want him or not.
5. Price didn't play his best game.
In letting in five goals against for the first time this season in regulation, Carey Price wasn't in top form. He didn't look like he had that steely-eyed focus that has been so prominent all season. Instead, Price was often unable to corral the puck letting out uncharacteristic rebounds as a result. As such, there were a lot of goal-mouth scrambles that could have been prevented.
None were more damaging, however, than on the Flyers' third period PP with the score tied at three. On the play Price made a good first save but slid too much to his right, allowing the puck to bounce to his left where there was an open net for the puck to be tucked into.
In his defense, however, the Habs were shorthanded and his teammates were still trying to get back from a failed 3-on-2, where Jaroslav Spacek was perhaps a little too aggressive on the play.
Price was not to blame for this loss as each goal was caused by a terrible play, decision or giveaway by his teammates. That being said, he wasn't there to cover up their mistakes like he has been in every game so far this season.
Standings and Next Game
The loss marks the first time this season that the Canadiens have dropped three straight decisions. They remain stalled in the standings with an 18-11-2, good for 38 points. Despite the loss, the Habs remain in first place in the division as the Bruins also lost last night and have 36 points with two games in hand.
Neither team has time to dwell on their loss, however, as the Bruins are in Montreal tonight.
The Bruins have slowly been closing the gap between them and the Canadiens over the last few weeks and tonight's winner will claim the top spot in the Northeast for themselves.
The Habs will be looking to avoid losing four straight games for the first time this season, a result that might just send the Habs faithful over the edge.
The puck drops around 7:40 pm tonight.
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