When the Canadiens and Flyers last met, less than a fortnight ago, the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff race was still liquid. The Canadiens were coming in on a three-game winning streak, and fighting for position atop the Conference and Division. The Flyers were in a fight of their own, desperately clinging to their playoff lives.
In contrast to that winning streak, the Canadiens come in with their ears popping from a quick descent. After rolling over the Buffalo Sabres, the Canadiens marched into Toronto and were promptly tossed out, giving up four first period goals to end any thoughts of scoreboard competitiveness. The Flyers, meanwhile, are all but out of the playoffs, as their tragic number has ticked to five with seven games left to play. Their fan-base seems to have moved past the anger and frustration, slowly drifting into acceptance and indifference.
While the Flyers may be looking toward the off-season, the Canadiens would do well to win this game. They remain one point up on the Bruins with seven games remaining, and with the Bruins closing out on what could be described as a favourable schedule, the Canadiens need to take two points when they're available. While I was similarly confident prior to the Leafs game, a home game against the Flyers is about as good as the Canadiens can hope for it to get.
Contributing to the air of opportunism surrounding this game has been the play of Flyers' goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov's play has evolved from average, to aggravating, to abhorrent as his season has progressed. Bryz sports a .898 save percentage for his season, which compares well with his .873 mark in his career against the Habs. Of course, none of this was good enough for Montreal last time out, when they could muster only seventeen shots and three goals.
The Canadiens will likely start Carey Price, who was given a quick hook on Saturday night. Price allowed three goals on four shots, none of which appeared overwhelmingly difficult to stop. Given Price's ability, and his mental toughness, Price is probably in for a bounce-back game. The Flyers have experienced strong starts from Price in the past, as he a .921 save percentage in his career against Philly. Nonetheless, Price has only a 7-7 record against the Flyers, and was the victim of four goals he would later describe as "lucky" when the Canadiens lost to the Flyers recently.
The Flyers have been season-long victims of poor injury luck, and things have not changed much in that regard since these two teams last met. Defensemen Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Grossmann are still on the injured reserve, and agitator Zac Rinaldo's season is over. The list of those who won't play again this year goes on to include Max Talbot and Chris Pronger, whose chances of playing this year admittedly weren't that great to begin with.
Despite the injuries, the Flyers will ice a couple of dangerous offensive players, including Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, who are tied for the team scoring lead with 39 points apiece. The Flyers forward group will also include the especially effective Wayne Simmonds, who was recently described (on this blog) as a player equal to the league-wide perception of Milan Lucic.
For enjoyable journalism amidst late-season malaise, and likely some reference to tonight's game, check out Broad Street Hockey.