It Hab-Ened Last Night: Habs Outclassed By Resilient Flyers
It was business as usual for the Montreal Canadiens last night, in Philadelphia. Well, at least "business as usual" as we had come to expect it last season.
After a strong first period, which saw Maxim Lapierre score two goals interesting goals that Flyers goaltending Brian Boucher would likely want to get back, the Canadiens turtled, went into their shell and sat on a fragile two-goal lead. And against a strong offensive team such as the Philaldelphia Flyers, a team that leads the league in goals for, and a team that employs three players with ten or more goals and a few more not so far behind, you can bet that this decision could only be described as a big mistake.
After out-shooting the flyers 15 to 9 in the first period, the Canadiens were blown out in the second and third, as the Flyers stormed back to eliminate the 2-0 deficit and win the game 3-2, especially in the second, where they managed 21 shots to a lowly total of 5 by the Habs.
The Canadiens best player was once again Carey Price, who followed up Saturday's shutout of the Leafs with a 42 save performance in a losing effort. Price kept the Habs in it until the very end, seemingly unphased by the snub job of the NHL in its latest three stars of the week, making the incredible saves that have seemingly become the norm for the young netminder. And despite the fact that he wasn't rewarded last night, Price might have a reason to smile this afternoon, as it was just announced that he leads all goaltenders in All-Star fan voting, as a write-in candidate, no less.
Beyond Price, Maxim Lapierre had one of his best games of the season, scoring his 4th and 5th goals of the season, and ringing another off the post in a dismal second period that could have put the Habs up 3-0. He would finish the night with 2 goals, 6 shots and 2 hits, despite only playing a 12 minutes of the game, with no time on special teams. Unfortunately for Lapierre and his linemates, Jeff Halpern and Benoit Pouliot, they were on the ice for the first two Flyers goals and would see their ice time significantly decrease as the game wore on. Halpern and Pouliot would assist on both of Lapierre's goals, early, however, and Halpern continues to prove to be an incredible signing for the Canadiens, as he improves his point totals to 5G-8A-13P, good for 4th on the team, and only a point behind Kostitsyn and Cammalleri.
Halpern also seems to be the only player on the Canadiens who can seemingly win a faceoff, as he finished with a team best 55% in the faceoff circle, for a total of 57.2% on the season. Tomas Plekanec, who takes the most faceoffs on the team and seems to do everything (else) right, can only muster 47.9% on the season, and Scott Gomez sits on the fence with 50% in the circle. This has clearly become a significant issue for the Canadiens. If you don't win faceoffs, you generally don't start the play with the puck, which means you're likely going to get shot on more often than you shoot yourself. And you can't play the shutdown, puck possession game that Jacques Martin seemingly preaches if you don't have the freaking puck.
In the end, Habs fans shouldn't be anywhere near the ledge on this rainy Tuesday afternoon in Montreal. Their team still sits atop the Northeast division with 27 points and a good record, and the really only lost to one of the best teams in the league after shutting them out less than a week ago. You can't win them all, and frankly it would be a major surprise to most if the Canadiens could maintain anything more than an even record against a team that has constantly had their number over the last few years.
There's no shame in losing to the Flyers. What Habs fans should feel shame for, however, is the pitiful effort they put on display against one of their biggest rivals, simply because they had a shotty 2-0 lead on a couple of flukey soft goals.
I'm really not in any position to point fingers here, but when your team decides to play a defensive game and sit on a lead against one of the best teams in the league, with 40 minutes of hockey left to play, what else can you do but call it a coaching issue? It might work against some of the lesser teams in the league, but not against a team that will come at you from every angle, every line, every shift. And the Flyers definitely knew this, since their points came from nine different players, and 11 of their 18 skaters registered multiple shots, including Hartnell, Pronger and Carter (6 shots each), JVR (5, a goal, first star of the night) as well as Giroux and Briere with four each. The Flyers were literally firing on ALL cylinders last night, while the Canadiens did nothing.
It would be unfair to blame the loss on Scott Gomez, who continues to look lost out there, Roman Hamrlik, who is once again starting to show his age, or Brian Gionta, who has seemingly regressed back into his non-scoring self. This was a team loss, a team "non-effort", and everyone from the coaching staff down to Lars Eller, who continues to play the least minutes on the team for some reason, deserves a portion of the blame.
Simply put, it can't happen again. Because as much as Jacques Martin and his team thinks that Price will cover their asses night-in and night-out, there's going to come a point where he might not do that anymore, where he might start getting a little worn out. Price has given so much to this team this season after they (and their fans) gave him nothing last year. It's time to give a little back, and it starts with a 60 minute effort on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, in front of their home town fans.
And it doesn't matter if they score 1, 2 or 5 goals in the first period. Keep them coming, just like they did two weeks ago against the Hurricanes.
Apparently today's morning practice included a bag skate, but the mixed messages the coach continues to send both the players and the fans, with a day off after a shutout loss at home, another after a shutout win this weekend and now a bag skate after a loss he clearly contributed to might do just as much bad as they do good.
Yannick Weber, who really didn't do anything wrong playing two games on the 4th line, is back out, Darche is in, playing on the 4th line with Lars "What the Hell do I have to do" Eller and Benoit "What the Hell did I do now" Pouliot. Tom Pyatt who in fairness hasn't really had too many bad moments as a shutdown forward practices with Halpern and Lapierre, and Travis Moen continues to be wasted on the 2nd line with Gomez and Cammalleri.
We'll have much more tomorrow, including the liveblog portion of our latest Habs Panel, this time with panelists Kamal Panesar, Kevin Van Steendelaar, and of course Iain Carnegie and myself. Make sure to read it, post your own responses, and be there tomorrow as we take your questions and cover the Kings and Habs!
Also, if you have any questions or suggestions/comments on the panel, please post them in our forums!