MONTREAL – The Canadiens knew that registering their first win of the 2013-14 campaign would require a complete team effort on Saturday night against the Flyers, and to a man, Michel Therrien’s squad achieved its objective.
After coming up short against the Maple Leafs in the season-opener last Tuesday night, the Habs spent the better part of three days of practice working on several aspects of their defensive game in hopes of shutting down a potent Flyers offense come the second tilt of the year. Such was the case, as Peter Laviolette’s troops were limited to just 23 shots on goal in the Habs’ convincing 4-1 victory over Philadelphia at the Bell Centre.
For Therrien, whose club conceded 38 shots on opening night to Toronto, the Canadiens’ ability to effectively control the likes of Flyers standouts Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier, was an affirmation that his players are taking their responsibilities at both ends of the rink to heart.
“We were solid defensively as a unit of five. We didn’t give up many scoring chances and Carey [Price] was solid. We concentrated on a few aspects of our defensive game like reacting to a few situations, and we executed them well. Those are encouraging signs,” confirmed the Habs bench boss. “In our first game, we created a lot of opportunities. It could have gone both ways and we ended up losing that game. What I liked about Saturday night’s game is that we created some things, we were able to compete and we were first on the puck.”
That’s something Price was quick to point out in the wake of coming within 10:47 of recording his 20th career shutout with the bleu-blanc-rouge. The 26-year-old netminder wasn’t called upon to make critical stops often during Saturday night’s game, something he believes is a by-product of his teammates’ commitment to ensuring that he’s well-protected.
“The guys played very well in front of me. We were really committed to our defensive play,” confirmed Price, who insists his work with new Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite has already produced tangible results. “I think the guys are doing a really good job of letting me see the puck. I’m just trying to stay sound and let everything come to me. We didn’t have a whole lot of mental lapses out there. We had great support all over the ice. Whenever we did turn the puck over, there was always a guy there to back him up.”
While the regular season may have just begun, Price is adamant that the detailed manner with which the Canadiens approached their game against the Flyers – and the sense of self-assurance that comes with that type of preparation – is what ultimately earned them their first two points of the year.
“We really limited their scoring chances. I think we’re headed in the right direction. I think the work we’ve been doing has been paying off,” noted the Anahim Lake, BC native, who backstopped the Canadiens penalty kill, limiting the Flyers to one power play marker in five opportunities with the man advantage. “Everything in this game is about confidence, whether it be in yourself or in your teammates. Knowing that you have five other guys out there willing to back you up makes a big difference.”
Fortunately, Price could count on any one of his teammates for support on both defense and offense on Saturday night. While Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk’s efforts yielded a combined six points, the trio of Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque and Tomas Plekanec accounted for five points themselves. Both lines wreaked havoc on a Flyers defense corps that ultimately buckled under intense pressure in the third period as the Canadiens beat goaltender Ray Emery three times in the final frame alone, including twice on the power play.
“I think that’s the strength of our team, the depth of our scoring,” praised Gionta, who along with the rest of the Habs will depart Monday afternoon on a four-game road trip that begins with a game in Calgary on Wednesday night. “You look up and down the lineup, we have three lines that can score goals and that’s a huge key for us. Price made a bunch of huge saves [on Saturday night]. He gives us a chance and he loves us to play patient. With him back there kicking them out and making some big saves, it helps us out.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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