For the third straight game, the Montreal Canadiens will aim to increase their cushion atop the Northeast division, while their opponent barely clings to their playoff lives. The Flyers are mired in 13th place, but as one of seven teams within six points of seventh place, they can perhaps still lay claim to a legitimate chance of making the playoffs.
What is it that is holding the Flyers back this year? Their primary concern is likely their injury-ravaged defence corps, where they are currently missing a quartet of players (Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Nicklas Grossmann) that could pass as an NHL top 4. Standing between the Canadiens strong forward group and the fifty-six million dollar man in the Flyers net will be Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn, journeymen Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster, recently acquired Kent Huskins, and Adirondack Phantoms call-up Erik Gustafsson. Joining the parade of injured Flyers is Max Talbot, whose season is done after breaking his leg this weekend.
In addition to, and perhaps a product of, their injury woes, the Flyers have been abysmal at even strength this season. There is a significant disparity between the Habs and Flyers in this regard, making tonight's game an excellent opportunity for the Canadiens to assert themselves and win.
What does Philadelphia bring to the table? The primary weapon is their lethal powerplay, currently leading the NHL at a 24.8% clip. That rate increases to over 31% at the Wells Fargo Center, so it may behoove the Canadiens to depart from their most-shorthanded team in the conference ways, even for just one night. The Flyers can also play the other side of the special teams coin, posting a top-10 penalty kill to date.
Immediately following their game with the Flyers, the Canadiens will return home to prepare for a Thursday game with the Jets, meaning that a Peter Budaj start will be in the works shortly. If the Habs go with Budaj off the bat, they'll do so in spite of the ten goals he's allowed over three career starts (two losses) against the Flyers. Carey Price, on the other hand, has been outstanding against the Flyers in his career. In thirteen starts against the Flyers, Price has collected two shutouts while posting an excellent .925 save percentage. With Price's superior track record, and a looming rematch with the Bruins on Saturday, he may be the logical choice to handle the Flyers game.
At the opposite end of the rink will be Ilya Bryzgalov, he of the aforementioned substantial income. Bryzgalov has been just average this year, with a .900 save percentage and a win-loss record hovering around .500. In his career against the Habs, he's been even worse - one win in five tries, sixteen goals against, and a save percentage of just .880. If the Flyers were to decide to go in another direction, Michael Leighton is behind door #2. The former playoff hero has had more success than Bryz against the Habs, but has only made on start so far this season.
When the Canadiens earned their earlier 4-1 win over the Flyers this season, they did so without new depth defenceman Davis Drewiske. They may have to earn another victory without the new DD in the lineup, as the sixth defenceman spot that had been occupied by a carousel of auditioning Bulldogs (most recently Nathan Beaulieu) will have to be filled by recently-waived Tomas Kaberle or recently-injured Yannick Weber tonight if Drewiske isn't ready to be inserted. Other Canadiens injuries include the usual: Rene Bourque, Raphael Diaz, and Ryan White are all out. Colby Armstrong is also out after going down against the Hurricanes, to be replaced by Michael Blunden for tonight's game.
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