The Montreal Canadiens are struggling right now, there's no doubt. And with losses, comes a lack of confidence and timing. But there are things that can counteract a lack of confidence and timing, like diligent preparation, fervent repetition, and the confidence that comes from knowing exactly where somebody is going to be at a certain time.
The observation couldn't be more spot-on. For weeks, the Habs have looked like a team that desperately needed a return to training camp, if only to regain their confidence in the concept that they are, in fact, a professional hockey team.
But the reality of the 82-game regular season grind is harsh, and in practice, no such break exists. That leaves those watching the team - and those running it, one would think - to look for the built-in opportunities for the team to regain its focus.
Distractions like the Winter Classic and the All Star break, pleasantly disruptive as they are, don't give a team the chance to come together and find their timing in all of the little areas that sum together to create success.
Individually, however, the Canadiens should be rested, refreshed, and hopefully, mentally removed from the failure that has clouded their existence of late. Tonight, we'll find out if that individual invigoration can lead to collective success, and a path back toward those victories that seem so far away.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.4||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.0|
|0.94||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.92|
Know Your Enemy
It's impossible to discuss the Flyers without devoting much of the conversation to their cadre of stars. Often played together, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds make for a supremely talented trio, and easily the most dangerous group the Canadiens will have to contend with tonight.
Supporting that group is heralded rookie Shayne Gostisbehere, whose contributions in an offensive role continue to earn him increased responsibility. Buoyed by six minutes of powerplay time - just under four minutes more than his closest defensive teammate - Gostisbehere was his team's most used defender in the Flyers last game before the break.
On the season, the Canadiens and Flyers have identical 17.4% powerplay success rates, but the two units are trending in opposite directions. While the Habs have mostly slid since a successful start to the season with the man advantage, the Flyers find themselves on a steady upward trajectory, generating an extra 10 shot attempts per 60 minutes over their last 25 games, compared to their first 25.
If there ever were a time for Montreal to pick up their powerplay game, however, it just might be tonight. The Flyers are a bottom-five team in terms of penalty kill success, despite getting some reasonable goaltending from Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason overall. And with Sean Couturier recently moved to the IR, the Flyers' starter can expect to see even more special teams rubber tonight.
The 23-year-old centre is building his resume as a Selke candidate this season, and would have played a particularly important role in shutting down Montreal's man advantage. At the top-right of the Flyers' penalty kill box, Couturier would have been the man best-positioned to stifle slap shots and seam passes from P.K. Subban. Now, Head Coach Dave Hakstol will have to find a replacement on short notice.
The Habs have been anything but efficient in their recent powerplay work, but Subban's talent guarantees a difficult match-up.
Last Time Out
It doesn't get much uglier than Montreal's most recent effort against Philadelphia. The game ended 4-3 in favour of the orange and black team, but the play on the ice was much less flattering toward the Canadiens than the final score.
The opening period was nearly devoid of offensive opportunity for the visitors, save for Alex Galchenyuk's tip-in of a Mark Barberio point shot and a cross-ice pass in the opening seconds that Brendan Gallagher couldn't quite get a stick on. Galchenyuk's goal neutralized a lead created for the Flyers by Brayden Schenn, whose poke-check on Andrei Markov turned into a clear breakaway and a goal on Ben Scrivens.
Scrivens held up well despite a heavy workload at even strength, but on the powerplay, Philly would pull ahead again. Gostisbehere engineered two goals with shots from the left point off of face-off wins, scoring one himself and benefitting from a Simmonds redirect on the other.
The two-goal Flyers lead seemed to wake-up the Habs, starting with a scoring chance-filled powerplay generated when Ryan White took it upon himself to cross-check Torrey Mitchell in the back. The Habs came up empty, however, and that effort became a microcosm of the remainder of the game. The Canadiens pushed as best they could, even getting a goal before the second period was out, but would come no closer.
The two-goal disadvantage that the Canadiens struggled against one month ago is an apt representation of the current state of their season. But just like the Flyers game, effort alone will not get the Habs to their goal. The Canadiens need the type of structured, cohesive effort we haven't seen in months now. If that type of play doesn't return soon, that early season effort will be all for naught.