Philadelphia Flyers-Montreal Canadiens Game Three: Speed Kills

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMay 21, 2010

MONTREAL, QC - MAY 20:  Brian Gionta #21 of the Montreal Canadiens handles the puck on his way to scoring against Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on May 20, 2010 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Montreal 5 Philadelphia 1 (Bell Centre) Flyers lead the series 2-1.

"The Great Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to that man behind the has spoken." — from The Wizard of Oz

You really have to feel for Gary Bettman and his pals in the NHL offices. They are staying up late in the editing room trying to manufacture a hero.

No Crosby or Ovechkin as your pitch man? No worries. Just take a journeyman goalie add some big sound, smoke and video effects and you have yourself an Oz. Or in Bettman-speak, the "History Will be Made" commercial.

How touching is the "What if Leighton didn't seize the moment" spot? Hang on, I need a tissue.

The one compelling part of the story is that Leighton is that the 29-year-old Canadian happens to be a genuinely nice guy. But there's a reason that the Goalia from Petrolia (who came up with that nickname?) is a career minor leaguer. While Leighton has the size, his game breaks down when he is forced to move.

Leighton credits the Good Witch of the North named Jeff Reese for improving his game since coming to Philadelphia. But a stroke of Reese's magic wand is not enough to counter the lack of skill and technique.

In our previous game review, big rebounds and slow lateral movement were identified as two key weaknesses to Leighton's game. Tonight, the Canadiens exploited both in the first two goals of the game.

Puck tracking and transition gaps were exposed in Leighton's third and fourth goals allowed.

There is an illustrative example of Leighton's shortcomings right at the end of the second period. Mike Cammalleri attempts a pass to Andre Kostitsyn but it's blocked by Chris Pronger. Cammalleri gets the puck back and gets it through a second time to Kostitsyn who redirects it just wide.

Watch Leighton face Cammalleri, go for the first pass, come back across the crease, and then over again dreadfully late for the second pass. You'll think that your DVR is in slow motion.

The criticisms are certainly not to suggest that Leighton deserves the blame for tonight's loss. It's simply to counter the "savior of our season" fairytale that some are trying to peddle.

Rather than blame, we can look at the unstoppable force that was the Montreal Canadiens tonight. They used their speed and puck pressure to play a possession game. One wonders why Jacques Martin doesn't permit his troops to play this way more often?

We recall the first Saturday in February against the Penguins and the Centennial game in December against the Bruins as the most obvious examples. The Canadiens can dominant when allowed to use their biggest weapons, speed and skill.

"I think at times this year we've gotten ourselves into trouble when we've gotten the lead and sat back," said Brian Gionta. "Tonight I thought we did a good job, especially going into the third with a 3-0 lead. Obviously, (if) they scored a quick goal, it could change the whole outcome. But we kept pushing, we kept forechecking, and we're a much better team when we're doing that."

Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube even noticed the Habs' switched to a two man forecheck from a single man system used in the first two games. Philadelphia's bigger, slower defense had a tough time coping.

The quick-footed Habs created Flyers' turnovers and caused them to take penalties.

"Turnovers in any sport will kill you," said Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette. "We've got to do a better job of fighting for the puck and keeping the puck. We will be better on Saturday."

When the Broad Street Bullies resorted to the physical game, the Habs refused to wilt. Andrei Kostitsyn led the team in hits, with Max Lapierre contributing as well. All of the Habs came to the aid of their teammates when Flyers' frustrations ended in scrums.

With Philadelphia taking far too many penalties, the Habs had an opportunity to put this game out of reach much earlier than they did. Unfortunately, the power-play woes continue, ignoring the last minute meaningless tally. Assistant coach Perry Pearn must make adjustments before the end of this series.

Kirk Muller was able to tweak the penalty-kill to help his unit have a perfect night.

Mike Cammalleri's goal broke Leighton's shutout streak. Gionta was all over the ice and had a tremendous game with a goal on seven shots.

But it was the lesser lights that shone tonight, namely Dominic Moore and Tom Pyatt, who combined for four points. Glen Metropolit took 14 faceoffs in his 16 shifts, and remarkably, he won 12 of them.

The Canadiens defense, led by Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, were stellar tonight. They blocked shots, cleared rebounds and sharply moved the puck out of their own zone. The defense was far more inclined to join the rush than in the first two games of the series.

Jacques Martin's handling of Ryan O'Byrne only supports his reputation as a coach who picks favorites and destroys the confidence of younger players. With O'Byrne having been held out of the past three games, adrenaline got the better of him early in the game.

O'Byrne accidentally cleared the puck into the crowd earning him a penalty for delay of game. He rarely saw the ice after that playing only 1:34. O'Byrne's mistake was certainly far less egregious than the dozens made by Marc-Andre Bergeron but to no avail.

It appeared to me that Martin nailed O'Byrne to the bench not for fear of another error but in case he did something right. The coach has been second-guessed and peppered with questions about not using O'Byrne in this physical series.

With O'Byrne's penalty, and no further chance to redeem himself, Martin was able to make himself look like he was right all along. It's a sad way to manage a team, and partly responsible for the coach's mediocre career record.

This was the first game officiated by Paul Devorski since the Game Four debacle against Pittsburgh. Devorski and his partner Brad Watson were only slightly better tonight. Both teams had reason to complain about missed calls. In fact with the inconsistency of the referees, it's very difficult to know what a penalty is anymore.

Game Four will take place on Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.

Oh, and Gary, if you are looking for a substitute story for your three golfing Staal brothers, try Tom Pyatt. He's from Thunder Bay too.

Rocket's three stars

1. Roman Hamrlik
2. Brian Gionta
3. Tom Pyatt

Special mention: Dominic Moore, Jaroslav Spacek, P.K. Subban

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

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