Canadiens attempt to slow down red-hot Flyers
Wednesday, 12.14.2011 / 3:49 PMFLYERS (19-7-3) at CANADIENS (13-11-7)
TV: NHLN-US, TSN, RDS (HD), CSN-PH
Philadelphia 8-2-0; Montreal 4-2-4
This is the third meeting in a four-game season series that will conclude March 24 in Philadelphia. The home team has won each of the first two matchups, with Montreal prevailing 5-1 on Oct. 26 and the Flyers winning 3-1 on Nov. 25.
Montreal is 2-0-0 since acquiring defenseman Tomas Kaberle
from Carolina and is looking to maintain a consistent pace after winning two straight for the first time in a month. The Flyers, meanwhile, have been rolling through the Eastern Conference, but are now dealing with injuries to two of their most important players.
Winners of six in a row and eight of its last nine, Philadelphia has yet to lose in December following a 7-3-2 record in November. The team still has yet to lose three or more games consecutively this season and has been among the League's top teams through the first third of the season. But that journey toward the playoffs didn't get any easier when captain Chris Pronger and leading scorer Claude Giroux both went down with concussion-like symptoms.
Missing both of these key pieces to the lineup, Philadelphia entered an important part of its schedule in which it will play seven of eight games on the road to close out December before starting 2012 as hosts of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park. Opening up this travel-heavy stretch Tuesday night in Washington, the Flyers didn't appear to miss a beat, as they raced out to a 5-0 lead courtesy of goals from five different players. Only Jeff Halpern's goal with 6:01 left in regulation kept Ilya Bryzgalov from earning his second shutout of the season.
Despite their troubling tendency of late for blowing third-period leads, Montreal still has yet to lose a game in regulation in December. With their flailing power play ranked near the bottom of the League, they made the move for Kaberle last Friday, dispatching veteran defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to the Hurricanes. Kaberle paid instant dividends for les Habitants, registering 2 assists in his first game with the team in a 2-1 win over the Devils on Saturday.
While Kaberle was the story of the game, the win can be credited mostly to goaltender Carey Price
, who stopped Zach Parise on a potential game-tying penalty shot with just 47 seconds remaining in regulation.
Tuesday night at home against the Islanders, Montreal carried a 3-1 lead into the third but again showed difficulty maintaining that edge. Third-period goals from Josh Bailey and John Tavares allowed the Islanders to tie the game 3-3, but Petteri Nokelainen
scored just 2:17 after Tavares' marker to give Montreal a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Kaberle provided an assist in the game and Montreal posted back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 10-12.
Scott Hartnell has been an offensive force for Philadelphia, tallying goals in six straight games. Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr both have 8 points in their last six games. … For the Canadiens, Erik Cole
has scored in three straight games while Max Pacioretty
has 5 points in his last five games.
Pronger and Giroux aren't the only Flyers out with concussions. Brayden Schenn has a mild concussion that has put him on IR, along with Blair Betts (bone bruise) and Andreas Lilja (ankle). Schenn and Lilja did return to practice on Wednesday. … For Montreal, Travis Moen
is questionable for Thursday while Andrei Markov
(knee), Ryan White
(sports hernia), Scott Gomez
(groin), and Brian Gionta
(lower body) are on IR.
While the Kaberle trade was considered a controversial one for the Canadiens in light of his contract and disappointing performance so far this season, the team's power play has improved since the deal. Montreal has scored on the power play in both games since Kaberle's arrival, the first time it has hit paydirt with the man advantage in consecutive games since doing so in four straight games from Nov 14-19. The power play still ranks 28th in the League ahead of only St. Louis and Phoenix.
With 15 goals through 29 games, Hartnell is already halfway toward matching his career high of 30, which he posted in the 2008-09 season. He has also been an absolute workhorse in Philadelphia, missing just three games since coming to the Flyers before the 2007-08 season.