Playing against the New York Islanders in their final game prior to the All-Star break, the Montreal Canadiens looked a little lost. In dominating the Buffalo Sabres in their first game back, they looked anything but.
The opposite is true of their opponents tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers. Head Coach Dave Hakstol’s crew did the opposite, winning three in a row before the break only to be humiliated by the Carolina Hurricanes just afterward.
The Flyers are in a tenuous position, sitting one point up on the Toronto Maple Leafs but having played three more games. To make matters worse, no fewer than four other non-playoff teams are within five points of the Flyers’ total. If they want to protect their 42% odds of making the playoffs , the Flyers can’t afford to waste a game in the stretch run.
For the Habs, it’s a matter of building some momentum as their roster begins to take shape.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: SNE (English), RDS (French)
In the Flyers region: CSN-PH
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.92||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.63|
|1.32||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.76|
After three players returned from injury on Tuesday, Alex Galchenyuk will try for a second time to return from his knee injury tonight. He’ll centre David Desharnais and Andrew Shaw. Jeff Petry will also return to skate alongside Nathan Beaulieu, bumping Greg Pateryn to the press box in the process. Carey Price will start in net for the Habs again, probably with the goal of coming agonizingly close to a shutout, if possible.
Price will be forced to stare down another of the NHL’s top-ten powerplays after facing the Sabres efficient man advantage. The Flyers tend to generate a barrage of shots when up a man (or more), fewer than only the Ducks and Maple Leafs per hour of play.
Their penalty kill is similarly strong, as only five squads allow fewer shots while down a man than Philadelphia. Their goaltending may be letting them down a little, however, as Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason each have a below average save percentage at 4v5.
At even strength, the Flyers are perfectly average. Their offence runs through their big name players, with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn carrying most of the load. Dale Weise, the former Canadien who scored at just below a second-line-rate last season, has been a non-factor, putting up just five points in 41 games in Philly.
Beyond the big names, look out for Philadelphia’s third line of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Nick Cousins. Hakstol used that trio head-to-head with Auston Matthews’s line in Philadelphia’s last game before the break, and the Flyers won that match-up decisively. If that tactic proves successful against Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, the Flyers could seriously hamstring Montreal’s even strength offence.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, the Flyers have a pretty good defenceman rising through their ranks. Andrew MacDonald has been the butt of many a joke since Paul Holmgren handed him a $30M contract, but things are looking up a little since being paired with with Ivan Provorov. The seventh overall pick in last year’s draft, and just past his 20th birthday, Provorov is already his team’s best defender when it comes to exiting his own zone with possession and entering the opposition’s. It should be interesting to see if the young Russian can challenge Montreal’s forecheck and get the puck to his dangerous teammates.
In the end, this game probably hinges on the Habs’ goaltending advantage. The Mason-Neuvirth platoon have been below average, doing their part to contribute to the fact that Philadelphia gives up more even-strength offence than only the Hurricanes (who have their own goaltending problems) and the hopeless Avalanche. If the Canadiens can break down the Flyers’ defence the same way they did against the Sabres and Robin Lehner, they should head into their Super Bowl matinees undefeated on the week.