Aiming for 94 points, the Montreal Canadiens need 18 more wins to earn a playoff spot this season. The herculean nature of the task is plain to see, but if the Habs want to make their lives a little easier, they need to win the four highest value games remaining in their schedule.
There are five teams directly ahead of Montreal in the standings, including the pair occupying the wildcard spots as of this writing; they include the Devils, Penguins, Lightning, Hurricanes, and Flyers. The Habs play the Lightning twice in the last ten days of the season, and visit the Hurricanes in their penultimate match. Besides those, though, only tonight's game brings the Habs in direct contact with a team against which Montreal is in direct competition in the standings. Whether you're cheering for a miraculous playoff birth or a tanktacular final 24 games, tonight's contest is more significant than most.
With their playoff chances sitting at only 25% heading into Thursday night's games, the Flyers need this game just as badly. Only 16 days removed from their last win over the Habs, they even have a winning recipe to follow.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.9||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.6|
|0.97||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.00|
Know Your Enemy
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The Flyers will look slightly different than they did when they last met with the Tricolore, mostly due to the presence of a youngster and a veteran who were each absent last game.
Dave Hakstol presented some new line combinations prior to his team's last game, which came against the New Jersey Devils. The tried and true tactic of blending one's lines came through again, as his team scored six goals in a victory on Tuesday night.
Jakub Voracek, previously part of a wrecking ball of a line with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, is now charged with mentoring Nick Cousins and propping up R.J. Umberger. That leaves Michael Raffl with Matt Read and Sam Gagner, and the constant fourth line of Ryan White, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde intact.
That first line, with Schenn now riding shotgun for Giroux, is the obvious offensive threat. They proved that fact on Tuesday, combining for eight points. The Raffl line is also interesting, with all three of its members capable of punching above their third line weight class when it comes to driving possession. But the real key will be Voracek.
Cousins, although talented, will not be able to provide the same level of support as Giroux or Simmonds can offensively, but the dynamic Voracek absolutely shredded Montreal not long ago. If he can be the same type of threat he was last time, Montreal is in deep trouble.
Last Time Out
For a game that was tied after two periods, and was sealed only with an empty-netter in the final minute, Montreal's last game with the Flyers never really felt that close.
The Canadiens struggled mightily to execute even simple zone entry plays, rarely gaining the Flyers zone without significant, and often self-imposed, difficulty. The result was a match that was Philadelphia's to win all along.
Final scoring chances 24-19 in favour of @NHLFlyers, 10-2 in high danger chances pic.twitter.com/MIxN3AiOg2— Sportlogiq (@Sportlogiq) February 3, 2016
The home side got off to a good start, with Voracek breaking down the Canadiens' penalty kill in the opening minutes. Voracek hit the blue line with speed, and the Habs' defenders were alarmingly quick to abandon their posts. Backing off the blue line and allowing the dangerous Czech winger to gain the zone, they watched as Voracek played a quick give-and-go with Giroux before threading a cross-ice pass to Schenn. Schenn accepted the pass in prime shooting position, but instead of a one-timer, he demonstrated some patience and vision. A second cross-ice pass found Simmonds uncovered, and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead.
Voracek would get another assist before the period was out, again on the powerplay but this time while operating from the point. Voracek took a lateral pass from his partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, and stepped toward the Canadiens' net. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were well-positioned to slow him down, but when his net-front pass tipped off both Schenn and Markov, Mike Condon was powerless to stop it.
Markov would get one back before the first period was out, lurking off Steve Mason's net and banging in a rebound as it came off the back boards. Jeff Petry would then equalize, making good on some nice hands from Nathan Beaulieu as he cashed-in a wrister from the left circle. The goal gave the Habs a clean slate in a game in which Philly had sustained most of the offensive pressure. Sadly, it would get them no closer to winning.
About to earn his third assist of the game, Voracek took the puck behind the Canadiens' net and fought off a check from Beaulieu. Casting situational awareness to the wind, all five Canadiens defenders turned their attention to Voracek as he worked his way out front. That left Simmonds unaccounted for, and required Voracek only to slip a deft pass to his teammate. The five Habs staring at #93 were powerless to stop #17, and Simmonds slipped the winner past Condon.
Undone by draft lottery-level defensive coverage, the Habs succumbed, and their season looks doomed to the same fate. With similar play in their own zone tonight, they'll be one loss closer to Bill Daly's envelope come the middle of April.
Game highlights are available on YouTube.