Coming off a big win in the Winter Classic and the four-plus days of rest they'd had since the game, and taking on the team with the second-fewest goals scored in the league, it seemed like a good chance to get consecutive wins for the first time since they achieved their fourth in a row on November 27.
The game got off to a promising start, as Montreal controlled the puck nearly exclusively in the Flyers' end for the first four minutes of the game. That constant zone time resulted in exactly zero shots, which serves as a microcosm of the game that was played last night.
Normally around this part of a recap, you'd see an image of the shot attempts to help illustrate how the game transpired. The chart showing the record of pucks sent toward the net in the match versus the Flyers suggests that the game was contested fairly evenly between the two teams, but that's not how the game played out.
In place of that graphic is a more detailed version of those attempted shots.
|G = goal||S = shot||B = blocked shot||M = missed shot|
Descriptive shot attempts graphic via WAR On Ice
The Flyers faced very little resistance in their offensive attack, usually hitting the net whenever they tried.
While the Canadiens launched a larger volume of shots in the general direction of the net, Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth was called to intervene on very few of them. The majority of the shots taken to his right were blocked by his defenders, while those launched from his left typically missed the net altogether. Of the 45 total attempts on goal during five-on-five play, only 14 found their way through to the net.
The reason for the high number of blocks was an effective strategy that Dave Hakstol's team utlized again the Habs: a tight box formation that collapsed into the slot. While that meant Philadelphia was often second to the puck in its own end, and made it difficult for them to launch offensive attacks, it was very effective against the Canadiens.
With little movement from the visitors to change lanes and force the defensive formation to break, the Habs seemed content to post up along the boards and try to blast pucks through the orange wall. The above graphic illustrates how poorly that strategy worked.
The Canadiens did manage to score three goals in the game; all the result of players driving into the area of the ice that the Flyers were intent on holding. The first goal started with Mark Barberio having his point shot blocked (not surprisingly) before a second attempt on the rebound off the Flyers defender went into the slot, where Alex Galchenyuk was waiting to deflect it in and tie up the game late in the first.
Good work by Barberio on the blue line leads to an Alex Galchenyuk tip. Tie game. pic.twitter.com/RmJOBKzci1— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 6, 2016
The goal was a bit of retribution for Galchenyuk, who had been one of the guilty parties on the goal the Flyers had scored earlier in the game. An attempted pass to a pinching Andrei Markov was deflected and recovered by Sean Couturier, who sent Brayden Schenn in on a successful breakaway from his own blue line.
Shayne Gostisbehere played a major role in getting the Flyers a 3-1 lead, blasting in his seventh goal of the season past Ben Scrivens early in the second before having another hard slap shot tipped in by Wayne Simmonds on a power play minutes later.
Brendan Gallagher got in on the action to reduce that lead to a single goal before the period came to an end, taking the ice after a great offensive-zone shift from the fourth line, and making a beeline for the top of Neuvirth's crease. Alexei Emelin's shot bounced off him and into the net just as he was turning to locate the puck.
A failed zone exit had the Canadiens too far out of position to prevent a Couturier tap-in goal six minutes into the third, and the lead was back up to two goals.
The Habs were the second-best team on the ice from that point until a late high-sticking penalty to Couturier gave them their fourth power play of the game. With Scrivens pulled for a two-skater advantage, the Habs still struggled to get the puck on target, registering just one shot with Couturier watching from the box. With less than a minute to go in the game, and many of the penalty killers still on the ice, Daniel Carr used some slick hand skills to pull the puck from behind the goal line, move it to his forehand and get it just over the line before Neuvirth could get to it.
Looks like a goal for Carr. pic.twitter.com/iDvvGRLJiM— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 6, 2016
A late flurry offered the threat of a tying goal but ultimately the Habs fell short of the comeback, succumbing 4-3.
A one-goal defeat isn't a terrible result, but the game shouldn't have been played with such difficulty. The Canadiens iced a better team than their opponent could, but didn't use that to their advantage. A team that has had so few wins in the last month of action shouldn't have any issues putting together a 60-minute effort, especially considering the time off in the last week.
A major roadblock to success is the poor showing on the man advantage. They have three power-play goals in their last 15 games. A second unit that has the likes of Tomas Fleischmann and Brian Flynn on the ice at the same time isn't going to help turn things around.
Alexei Emelin and Mark Barberio had another good game together, recording the best Fenwick (unblocked shot attempt) numbers on the team, and each running his assist streak to two games.
The Canadiens finally return home tonight for their first game in Montreal since December 17. Expect a more determined effort from the team when they play host to the New Jersey Devils.