The Montreal Canadiens finally did something they haven't done in some time: they played most of a competent hockey game. While they relied on some staunch goaltending to close things out, but on the whole, the Habs looked stronger then they have been in some time.
The Panthers came into the game on a tear, shredding their opponents to the tune of 55% possession over their last ten games. Last night, the Habs turned the tables on their opponents, manhandling them through two periods before sitting back and defending their lead. The strategy is questionable, but it got the Habs something they sorely needed - a win in a game where they held an edge in possession.
Tonight, the Habs will be met with a sterner challenge. When the Canadiens last met the Philadelphia Flyers, the Orange and Black were floundering. Out of the playoffs, the Flyers were not able to gain any momentum, and looked destined to finish outside of the playoff race. As was the Canadiens December custom, however, the Habs allowed the non-playoff team to take two points from them, suffering a 2-1 loss.
Fast forward to tonight, almost one month since that last game, and the Flyers are now on a tear. 7-2-1 in their last ten, the formerly forlorn Flyers are finally getting some bounces.
Goaltender Steve Mason, enjoying something of a renaissance season in his up-and-down career, has been alternating solid and poor starts of late. In fact, going back ten games to when Philly played Chicago just before they played Montreal last, Mason has amassed five quality starts. In the same span, however, he has registered consecutive quality starts just once. Unfortunately for Habs fans, after allowing three goals on 29 shots in the Flyers last outing at Phoenix, Mason is due for a quality start this evening.
200 feet from Mason will be Peter Budaj, getting the start after Carey Price took over his traditional assignment against Florida on Monday. Budaj is coming back down to earth after his unbelievable streak of success spanning back to last season was finally ended by a tough loss in Washington. Including that loss, which came in the shootout, Budaj is 1-2-1 in his last four. Now, Budaj will try to get back in the win column against a team that he's struggled against in his career.
In ten periods against the Flyers, Budaj has allowed 11 goals. Given Montreal's striking inability to score a goal and actually have it count, it seems safe to say that 3 or 4 goals against the Habs' backup would be too much for the Habs to overcome.
Speaking of 3 or 4 goals against Budaj, a big part of the Flyers recent success has been their improved offensive play. Over those same 10 games in which Mason has run hot or cold, the Flyers skaters have made sure to do their part, averaging more than four goals per game. Captain Claude Giroux, ridiculed not long ago for playing the first five weeks of the NHL season before he managed a goal, is now approaching a point per game. The energetic Wayne Simmonds has also picked up his production, overcoming a lethargic start to post seven goals in fourteen December games. He's carried his confidence into the new year, scoring twice in two 2014 games as well.
So, while shutting down Philadelphia's now productive offence will be among Montreal's top priorities, they'll have to give some attention to scoring, too. Word came out after the Florida game that Alex Galchenyuk, the Habs skilled sophomore winger, broke his hand against the Panthers. One of only five Habs that can boast double digit goal production, and their third leading even strength scorer, Chuckie is a critical player for the Canadiens.
With Ryan White and George Parros also injured, the Habs will likely need to play one of their prospects in a significant role for the first time this season. As of this writing, the call-up has not yet been announced, through Christian Thomas, Louis Leblanc, and Gabriel Dumont appear to be leading candidates. Michael Bournival, who's been quite efficient in limited minutes, may be treated to greater opportunity as well. At Tuesday's practice, Bournival took Galchenyuk's spot beside Lars Eller and opposite Rene Bourque.
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