Monday, December 7, 2009

Flyers at Canadiens, Or how to ruin a Goalie's Save %

This was the first game of the season between these two long-time rivals, Philidelphia is a far more skilled team than they were when they hacked, slashed and punched their way to two Stanley Cups in the 1970s, but they are still the Broad Street Bullies.

The Roster: Jacques Martin decided a winning combination is one you stick with, the roster remained the same from the Boston game, AK46/Cammalleri/Plekanec retained their line, SK74/Gomez/D'Agostini took the 2nd line duties, Pacioretty/Moen/Metropolit formed the team's best checking line seen in a while, Laraque/Lapierre/Bergeron suited up to provide 4th-line energy.

Hamrlik/Spacek remain proving you should never mess with a good thing, O'Byrne/Mara and Gorges/Gill provided defensive pairings, Carey Price got another start in net for his brilliant work in the Bruins match.

The Opponent: The Flyers are a much more skilled team than the one Montreal sent packing in the 1970s, forwards like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere provided a very solid, skilled front and a defence led by Chris Pronger, the dirtiest defencemen in the NHL but with Norris trophy skills means not only could the Flyers fight, they score as well. A very big team on average, the only weak link one might argue is the fragility of Daniel Briere, but he was healthy for tonight's match. Peter Laviolette had just taken over from recently fired Head Coach John Stevens, but his first game as the Flyers head coach did not go well, in an 8-2 shelling at home by the high-flying Washington Capitals, who fall upon any team with a defensive issue like jackals on a wounded animal. The only way they had to go was up, Brian Boucher, a French-Canadian goalie would get the start ahead of usual starter Ray Emery who allowed five goals in the Capitals game, possibly also chosen because French Canadian goalies love to turn up their game when playing in Montreal.

The First Period:

Not the most pulse-pounding period by a long shot, not even half the excitement of the Boston-Montreal game, both teams worked hard to limit the other from taking shots on their goalies. Shots were blocked, shooting lanes cut off, the Flyers kept Montreal from working in close to the goalie.

2:46 into the period, Georges Laraque would drop the gloves for a rather predictable fight with Flyers tough guy Riley Cote, Laraque would land a number of his lefts that have been known to be devasatating, but Cote managed to wrestle Laraque to the ground, neither came out seemingly any worse for wear but no more fights occured after this bout.

A mishandling of the puck at the Flyers blue-line led to a Daniel Briere breakaway, O'Byrne and Mara pumped their legs to try and catch Briere, but he's a very fast skater but the two big men were no match for his speed really. O'Byrne would be hanging on to Briere and would draw a whistle, but Briere as he was going down managed to lift the puck up over Price's left pad and glove hand to bring the score to 1-0 Flyers with 12:32 left in the period. Price wasn't that good, but he didn't let it get to him either noting his reactions later in the game.

Briere would get caught on a high-sticking minor about halfway through the period, but an aggressive Flyers penalty kill and a lack of good cycling in the offensive zone failed to produce any good chances.

Gill and Gorges kept to their role from the Boston game through the period, the personal guards of Carey Price who kept people out of his face and prevented any pucks from reaching his goal crease. I love seeing them play together, they form a good natural pair.

Ryan O'Byrne would be caught on a weak interference call which led to a Flyers power play, Montreal effectively killed it off and the period would end on a rather dull note offensively, four shots by Philidelphia, an ugly 1 by Montreal, shot blocking and defensive work on both ends would keep the shot count low, but Montreal had little energy and offensive pressure in the whole period, the Flyers had a 1-0 lead and the Montreal team that took Boston 5-1 was nowhere to be seen.

The Second Period:

Montreal came out with a lot more jump in their step, they knew they had the advantage in speed and the Flyers had not been so overly impressive that the Canadiens squad considered themselves in an unwinnable game with the Flyers on a thin 1-0 lead.

Carey Price's overly enthusiastic moves to clear the puck this game have led to some problems here and there, while he's probably one of the better goalies in the NHL for stickhandling, being overly aggressive with the goalie's paddle stick has caused him trouble. It would crop up this game as well, a clearing attempt by him off the glass would lead to a delay of game penalty, served by Matt D'Agostini. Montreal's PK unit would again go to work and kill it off with good efficency, Hal Gill is just a natural penalty killer and Gorges is a great partner for him.

At one point, in a tangled play around the net, Price would lose his stick, Gorges after going into a shot-block to help cover the net, would immediately hand his stick to Price until he could retrieve Price's stick for him and then they quickly switched the sticks, the two kids from B.C. are good friends and it's good to see Gorges dedication to his netminder and their teamwork, it's an encouraging sign.

After 6:20 in the match, a quick behind-the-net pass by Tomas Plekanec would find Andrei Kostitsyn in front of the net, he caught enough of the puck to lift it and put it past the Flyers goalie to tie the match, it is only Kostitsyn's 3rd of the season but based on his aggressive play lately, you can feel his offensive output will be ramping up soon, Montreal tied on their 3rd shot of the game, Roman Hamrlik got an assist as well.

Paul Mara had left the first period due to an upper-body injury, which saw Marc-Andre Bergeron shift back to defence in the 2nd paired with Ryan O'Byrne for the rest of the match, which saw Mike Cammalleri serve double shifts by playing on the 4th line, which he seemed to enjoy because it gave him his 16th goal of the season.

During a battle along the boards in the Canadiens zone, Georges Laraque would pop the puck loose, which would be collected by Lapierre and the second goal took shape. Mad Max took off with Cammalleri on his wing into the Flyers zone with the great speed that Lapierre has exhibited in the past when he creates scoring opportunities. A Flyers defencemen would drop to the ice to block Lapierre's path, but he dangled around to pass to Cammalleri, who would roof the puck and give Montreal a 2-1 lead with just less than 6 minutes remaining in the period. Laraque would get an assist on the play as well, his 100th for his NHL career.

The period would end with Montreal being outshot a total of 13-7 over two periods, a very low-shooting game, but both teams had been very quick to prevent shots against their goalies.

The Third Period:

Montreal was enjoying a 2-1 lead to start the period and would continue more offensive pressure to try and collect an insurance goal, but none would come easily.

A Chris Pronger penalty would create a new power play opportunity for Montreal after several ignored penalties by the Flyers, but Montreal would fail to convert on the chance at first and then a minute later, Montreal would be trapped with a Too Many Men penalty, which saw a minute of four-on-four, then a brief Flyers penalty. Both situations did not result in much offence, Montreal's penalty kill remained perfect.

A Matt Carle holding the stick penalty after an offensive jam in front of the Flyers net would result in a Montreal power play after a scramble nearly created a garbage goal for Montreal, but as the jam revealed, the net was already off it's moorings and the goal would not have counted.

This time, it would take Montreal a mere 25 seconds to collect their power play goal, a good cycle by Plekanec to Hamrlik, who fed Bergeron for a one-time shot that would bank off the left post into the net would give Montreal a 3-1 lead and insurance on their lead, it was Bergeron's 6th of the season and his 3rd on the power play.

Aggressive play by both sides continued, although Montreal's defence did seem a bit fatigued as they usually do by the end of the 3rd period, a late penalty by the generally heroic Josh Gorges gave the Flyers a 6-on-4 advantage, but strong work by the rest of the Montreal penalty killers and a few good saves by Carey Price would keep it a 3-1 game, a clearing attempt by Hal Gill would nearly see him get a EN goal, but no luck and the game ended 3-1.

Montreal would win with a mere 13 shots on net, three would go in, the Flyers had a total of 15 for the game and only two in the third period, thanks to strong shot blocking efforts by the Montreal defence and hard work to prevent any scoring chances. Carey Price would have a .933 save %, while Brian Boucher would have a .769%, talk about one night killing your numbers.

The Offence:

Hardly impressive in sustained pressure they weren't exactly a machine-gun offence in the first, or even the 2nd or 3rd periods, but they were accurate. Andrei Kostitsyn caught the puck while it was on it's side in front of the net to roof it in, Lapierre's set-up would give Cammalleri a perfect shot he didn't waste and Bergeron just fires off lasers when you give him an opportunity.

the Plekanec/AK46/Cammalleri line continues to be the best Montreal has, great speed and puck control that create quality chances in front of the net.

The Gomez/SK74/D'Agostini line seemed less effective, but Sergei's ankle seemed to be slowing him down a bit, slowing the overall tempo of the fast offensive line they are supposed to be and D'Agostini's trouble handling the puck at times makes for trouble. Gomez's terrible giveaway at the blue line at one point might have changed the game for the Flyers, but the great efforts of the defence covered the error and Gomez had a fair game aside from that part.

Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty continue to be the team's best checking line all year long, they create some offensive chances and stifle two or three times as many by the other team each night, aggressive checking, faceoff wins by Metropolit and great effort make them a nice line to see on the ice, you know they won't chip in many goals, but you know they'll make sure goals don't happen against the team either.

Lapierre/Laraque/Bergeron-Cammalleri had a fair night, Laraque's good board play provided Lapierre to create one of his best offensive plays of the season since he set up D'Agostini's goal in the New York Rangers game in October, Bergeron was a good guy until he had to go back to playing D, Cammalleri's execution on Lapierre's chance was picture-perfect.

The Defence:

Toronto's supposedly got a great defence, right? Wrong, the best defence in Eastern Canada belongs to Montreal right now. Roman Hamrlik blocked ten shots tonight, and you probably complain when you bump your head. Jaroslav Spacek was his very able partner, Hamrlik would collect two assists on the night as well, earning First Star honours for his neverending work on defence.

Ryan O'Byrne and Paul Mara's giveaway and failure to stop Briere would lead to the Flyer's single goal, but O'Byrne would make up for it the rest of the game with solid play the rest of the night, checking effectively and giving good control along the boards in Montreal's end. Bergeron would fill in as able partner for him, he's shaking off most of the defensive troubles that plagued Montreal when he started off.

Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, Carey Price's doormen, bodyguards and clean-up crew. They keep his crease clean of opposing bodies or use their bodies to block shots, provide great PK work and do whatever is needed of them, including helping create a couple of offensive chances on the evening. Utility defensive defencemen who do what is required of them when asked, Price will have a great year in nets with this pair covering him.

Goaltending: Price allowed a preventable goal on Briere, it wasn't that high-speed and I've seen Price catch much better shots than that with his glove. The key though? He shut the door after that, Price too easily collapsed after a bad goal last season and would allow 2-3 more bad goals, this season he's been much better on recovery and remaining resolute in nets, preventing any further goals and helping his team pick up the win. Good game, he could have had a shutout, but he's a young goalie and he's learned a very important lesson, it's not about how the last goal happened, it's about making sure the next one doesn't happen.

Three Stars:

1. Roman Hamrlik, 10 blocked shots, 2 assists, he directly set up the Bergeron insurance goal and was a solid man all night long, you can't help but love this solid defencemen who's playing some of his best hockey in years and earning every cent of his contract who so many (including myself at one point) said he was well overpaid for his role. I'm gladly eating my words on his renaissance season in this late point of his 1,186 game career.

2. Andrei Kostitsyn, handled a spinning puck to get his 3rd of the season while going to the front of the net ready for that Plekanec pass, his offensive outbursts were great all night long, you can just feel more is coming from the kid.

3. Maxim Lapierre, a good offensive outburst from him created the 2-1 lead, he's been too quiet this season and hasn't used his good stickhandling and speed the way he should be to create these chances that just aren't expected from this 4th-line centre. Hopefully like AK46, this is a confidence booster for him.


Yes this was beating a team that had just lost 8-2 to Washington on Saturday, yes their new coach is less than five days on the job, but the Flyers are a bullying team that analysts said the small stature of Montreal wouldn't be able to handle and would get pushed around too much. Montreal took the Flyers on and used their speed to beat them after a lax 1st period and executed on strong scoring chances. Andrei Kostitsyn got a good goal and Lapierre set up Cammalleri's, these were two guys in AK and Lapierre that needed to do these kinds of things to fire them up more and get them more competitive. Price allowed a bad goal, but shut the door on everyone else and the defence was strong, especially in the third period when they limited the Flyers to a mere two shots. Gill and Gorges, again, I love what they do for Price, they do all that has to be done to guard Price and prevent him from being overwhelmed in nets or caught on goals he can't possibly stop.

Montreal is now at 30 points and is one point out of the top half of the Conference since Tampa has a game in hand over them. With Gionta returning later this month and Markov next the team simply needs to hold at .500 or just over it for now and with their newfound work ethic and better defensive work, it seems quite possible.

Washington-Tampa Bay:

Didn't see it, but is anyone really surprised that Ovechkin picks up two goals on his return to get him back within 1 goal of the League leader in Gaborik? Props to Eric Fehr for his 8th of the season, between Laich, Fleischmann, Stecekel and Fehr, the Capitals have some very good plugging forwards along with their elite scorers like Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom. Tip of the hat to rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov as well for his 3rd career NHL shutout in 22 total NHL Games.

Ex-Habs Recognition:

Nothing notable from recent Habs Members on the night, same for the Junior Habs.

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