The Montreal Canadiens were in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers last night in their final game before a week long all star break. And with Carey Price being the sole Canadien participating in the festivities, you would have expected Montreal to leave it all on the ice.
Apparently the Canadiens did not get the memo.
The pregame tension was palpable—these two squads clearly have no love loss between them—with Daniel Carcillo and Mike Richards yapping at P.K. Subban only 15 seconds into the game. The raucous Philly crowd got in on the action too, booing Subban every time he touched the puck.
But despite the hostile atmosphere, the Canadiens played well to start the game, using their speed to create scoring chances in the Flyers' zone. Chipping the puck behind their D and moving their feet, Montreal controlled play for long stretches of the first period.
That is until Montreal once again fell into the trap of indiscipline, taking three penalties in the span of 1:31 to hand the Flyers back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays.
With Andrei Kostitsyn, P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek sitting in the crowded penalty box, the Flyers put two past Price, taking a 2-0 lead into the second period.
After that, it was all Philly as the disorganized Canadiens struggled to get the puck out of their zone and looked like they were more focused on the one week break than the task at hand.
The Flyers would pot two more in the second period—their fourth also on the power play—crushing any hope of a comeback spurred by David Desharnais' third of the season.
Ultimately, the Canadiens were masters of their own destiny, failing to take advantage of some shaky goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and unable to convert on any of their eight power plays.
With Price on the bench for the extra attacker and the Flyers carrying a two goal lead in the third, Daniel Briere sealed the victory with an empty netter.
Final score: Flyers 5 — Habs 2
Habs' scorers: David Desharnais (3), Mathieu Darche (9).
Flyers' scorers: Jeff Carter (23), Kimmo Timonen (3), Daniel Carcillo (3), Claude Giroux (19), Daniel Briere (26).
Three stars: 1. Claude Giroux, 2. Chris Pronger, 3. Mike Richards.
1. This game was all about the special teams.
The story of the game was special teams and Montreal could have had a better result if they had any success on the PK or the PP.
Philly went 3-for-5 on the power play and Montreal went 0-for-8.
Need I say more?
On the Flyers PP, they constantly had a giant Philly player parked right in front of Price. On the Habs' PP they constantly had 5'6" David Desharnais near the front of the net, but not necessarily in front of it.
Need I say more?
So while many fans are lamenting the Habs lack of physicality as a main reason for the loss—and it was a factor—the Canadiens could have tied and won this game on the power play alone.
As the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey pointed out before the game, the Canadiens had no sense of urgency going into the match. They just did not have their heads in the game and it looked like too many of them were already thinking beyond last night to the one week all star break.
So in a way, this was a game they lost before they even stepped on the ice.
2. Desharnais continues to look good in the Habs lineup.
The Canadiens were facing a formidable opponent in more ways than one last night. Not only is Philly the top team in the league but they are also big, strong, physical and skilled.
Despite giving up half a foot to most players in the Flyers' lineup, Desharnais was once again one of the more effective players for the Habs last night.
His gritty play and nose for the net meant that he was usually causing problems for the slower Flyers' defenders. Along with Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, Desharnais continued to compete when too many of his teammates had already checked out of the game.
Like Max Pacioretty, Desharnais is one of the few Canadiens who is usually in front of or around the net on the power play. As such he is often able to make plays, pick up rebounds and set up scoring chances.
He gives his all but at 5'6" he can only be so effective against 6-foot-plus defenders.
If all of the players on the team tried as hard as Desharnais does, Montreal would be a much more consistent squad.
3. James Wizniewski had a rough night.
The official stat sheet shows Wizniewski with only one giveaway in the entire game and for anyone who actually watched the game you know that this is total folly.
The reality is that The Wiz had three horrible defensive zone turnovers in the first period alone, and is perhaps starting to show why he has played on four teams since 2009.
Despite being a tremendous offensive threat—he has 12 points in 13 games with Montreal so far this season—Wizniewski has a tendency to make poor decisions on the defensive side of the puck.
As such, he plays his best when he keeps his game simple; clearing the puck along the boards or making a quick play to a forward are the best bets for Wiz but, last night, he decided to get fancy.
Three times in the first period Wizniewski tried to clear the puck up the middle of the ice and all three times it resulted in a scoring chance against.
We have to remember that Wiz was a minus-19 when he was traded to the Canadiens. Granted he was playing for a horrible Islanders squad but still, that is just a brutal stat.
If the Habs decide to keep him they absolutely have to pair him with a rock of a defensive player in order for him to be his most effective.
4. Ryan White didn't drop the gloves but he played a gritty game.
The Habs were totally outclassed and overwhelmed for a good two-thirds of the game last night. During that time, the only pseudo spark that they had was provided by the third and fourth lines. The fourth line in particular with Ryan White, Travis Moen and Jeff Halpern, looked like a solid combo for the Canadiens with a nice mix of speed, grit and skill.
Now it's kind of hard to find any bright spots in Montreal's pathetic performance last night, but I liked what I saw from White during the first period before the Flyers took control of the game.
He was going to the net, finishing his checks and getting involved in post-whistle scrums. He even hit a Flyers player after the whistle in a move that drew a crowd and that is exactly the type of role he has to play for Montreal.
White truly seems to be the only one willing to play that gritty, agitating role on a regular basis and Montreal is a better team for it.
It's only been three games, but he already has nine hits and is showing a level of grittiness that few players on the roster bring. Hopefully he keeps it up because the Habs can use his sandpaper.
5. The path to the Cup goes through Philadelphia.
The Habs played well during the first period and had a ton of power play chances over the course of the game but let's be serious here, they are in a different league from the Flyers.
Four lines deep with size, grit, skill and speed on every trio, the Flyers are scary good! Don't forget that they manhandled the Habs last night without the services of the up and coming James Van Riemsdyk—their Max Pacioretty type player from a readiness perspective.
The only question mark for the Flyers is, as always, their goaltending.
Sergei Bobrovsky has played well for them this season and played a decent match last night but you can see that he is a goalie that can be beaten. His rebound control is weak and he gives up a ton of chances as a result.
The problem for Montreal is that they never had anyone in front of the net to capitalize on all the loose pucks.
As for the Flyers, well, if the playoffs last season demonstrated anything it is that it is possible to win the cup without having a lights out goaltender. As such, regardless of the strength or weakness of their goalie, this team is my odds on favorite to go all the way.
Standings and Next Game
In losing to the Flyers, Montreal missed a golden opportunity to move into a tie for points with the Rangers and Bruins.
Instead, Montreal's record drops to 27-18-5 with 59 points in the standings, good enough for sole possession of seventh overall in the East. Montreal will now enjoy a full week off, for the All Star break, playing again next Tuesday February 2, 2011 against the Capitals at the Verizon Center.
Despite the horrible game Montreal played last night, fans have to remember that they are still sixth overall in the East, nine points better than at the same point last season.
In addition, they are doing it without the services of Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Michael Cammalleri and that's no small feat.
So things aren't all bad.
Enjoy the break folks!