PHILADELPHIA – “Up and down,” would answer Frank, the Wells Fargo Center’s veteran elevator operator, when asked how his workday went. The same would apply to the Habs in an uneven 3-1 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.
While the rivalry between the Habs and the Flyers has endured since the latter team’s entry into the NHL via the groundbreaking 1967 league expansion, the preferred way to wage war on the ice has greatly evolved since the Flying Frenchmen versus Broad Street Bully tilts of the mid and late 1970s. With every team in the league enjoying relative parity and systematic coaching, winning in today’s National Hockey League is less about fielding an overwhelmingly offense or beating your opponents into submission with a mix of fists and sticks. Instead, victory often comes to those who patiently advance the play, put the puck on net and jump on every precious enemy turnover.
The Canadiens, who came into the game looking for their first win in the last six at the Flyers’ home rink, had to do without Alex Galchenyuk, a big piece of the team’s offense since making the team last year. The American forward suffered a broken hand on Monday against the Panthers and will be out for the next six weeks.
In reaction to Galchenyuk’s injury, head coach Michel Therrien re-inserted Raphael Diaz into the lineup, dressing seven forwards and eleven forwards rather than the usual six-twelve split. The move did not prove fruitful, as the defense corps gave up three even-strength goals while failing to drive play consistently or to find the scoresheet. Indeed, the Flyers jumped out to a three-goal lead by digging out the puck in traffic and slipping it through a maze of bodies, past Peter Budaj, while the Habs often struggled to move the puck effectively from blueline-to-blueline.
“We had a couple of big penalty kills and some blocked shots, but we also had some turnovers and some defensive breakdowns. The Flyers made us pay for those mistakes tonight,” offered Budaj, who made 24 saves on 27 shots and allowed more than two goals for only the second time this season.
“We tried to play in a cute way tonight, and that rarely works against a solid team such as Philadelphia,” insisted defenseman Josh Gorges. “They’re a team that dumps the puck in and goes to work against you, and you can’t beat that by trying fancy plays. The fact that we had seven defensemen tonight instead of six is not an excuse”
“I thought we were aggressive at the start of the game and had some early scoring chances. Their goaltender made good saves and they were opportunistic. They got two in the first period and then made the most of their openings,” stated Michel Therrien, who was disappointed with the team’s lack of output on its four powerplays. “The powerplay was inexistent tonight. Philadelphia gained a lot of momentum by killing our penalties. We did not even get a scoring chance while five-on-four. It’s a facet of our game which is really deficient right now.”
Contrary to the team’s man-advantage woes, the Canadiens penalty kill kept the squad on life support for a while, denying the Flyers on all four of its powerplays and even provided an unexpected offensive boost. Tomas Plekanec was the only Hab to find the scoresheet, scoring a short-handed goal after Brian Gionta engineered a turnover at the Flyers blueline in the second period. The tally was his fourteenth of the season and kept the team’s hopes for a comeback alive for most of the game. However, no other Montreal skater was able to get another crack at Steve Mason, who made 19 saves in the win.
With the Chicago Blackhawks rolling into town on Saturday, Therrien and the Canadiens will jet back to Montreal and get back to work. With 37 games left in the season, the clock is ticking.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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