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Canadiens vs. Flyers game recap: Habs leave two points on the table

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Montreal just couldn’t convert their control of the puck into goals.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn’t clear that the Montreal Canadiens were the better team heading into last night’s game versus the Philadelphia Flyers based on their positions in the standings, it was soon after the drop of the puck.

Despite the Flyers getting a great chance that Wayne Simmonds was unable to get past the post, Montreal controlled the puck in the offensive zone for nearly the entirety of this first period. The phrase “wet paper bag” had been used on more than a few occasions to describe the Canadiens’ defensive resistance earlier in the season, and it certainly applied to what the Flyers were displaying in their own end.

While Montreal did hold a signficant shot advantage (12-1) after the opening frame, they easily could have had twice that many shots at Carter Hart. Every attempt either missed the net, got blocked, or hit the rookie netminder. Hart’s best save was a lunging effort to deny Charles Hudon on a wraparound attempt that served as the best chance for the Canadiens to get on the board. Instead, Montreal headed to the locker room with nothing to show for a 20-minute domination.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

A similar effort with the long change could have led to an even better showing the second period, and Brendan Galalgher was determined to see that happen as his line opened the frame, extending the shot advantage even further. But the Canadiens began to get a bit too creative with all the time and space they were being allotted, and it led to several turnovers and spoiled chances as potentially effective plays took a back seat to fancier ones.

The Habs were actually outshot in the middle frame, even if they did still hold an edge in possession. The Flyers managed that with a decent-looking power play that generated three shots a third of the way through, but the Caandiens survived with the scoresheet still blank.

“Decent” would a be a major upgrade for Montreal’s play with the man advantage. It was really quite something to watch the team that had controlled the puck in any zone with ease for the first 33 minutes of the game suddenly treat is as a hot potato with one less player on the ice able take it from them. The power-play effort sunk morale as the Canadiens still couldn’t get a goal on the board, and that cost them nearly immediately.

A minute and a half after Jakub Voracek stepped out of the box, Shayne Gostisbehere fired a shot that went off the toe of Antti Niemi and right to Travis Konecny for the first goal of the game.

The Canadiens were unable to get to the intermission with just that one goal to deal with. A shot from Robert Hagg 93 seconds later was heading well wide of the net, but James van Riemsdyk pulled it onto a scoring trajectory with a perfect redirection to make it a 2-0 game.

A quick start wasn’t in the cards for the home side in the third, not helped by Jonathan Drouin’s trip of Radko Gudas less than two minutes in that forced Montreal to play some defence when offence was desperately needed.

Putting all their effort into getting a goal coming off the kill, the Flyers escaped their zone on a 2-on-1 seven minutes in. Simmonds carried the puck in then slowed the pace down at the hashmarks, waiting for Jeff Petry to commit to him before he sent a pass across to Nolan Patrick for the 3-0 goal.

To their credit, the Habs didn’t resign themselves to defeat needing three goals to tie up and having just 13 minutes to get them. In fact, it took just 30 seconds to give themselves a chance at effecting a comeback. Max Domi accepted a short pass from Tomas Tatar in the slot, and adjusted to the puck near his feet to snap one past Hart to reduce the deficit to two.

It was Patrick once again who made life difficult by restoring the three-goal lead, entering the zone off the bench, deking a flatfooted Gallagher in the slot, and firing a shot right under the bar.

Brett Kulak caused the candle to flicker back to life with four minutes to go, outwaiting Hart right at the side of the net to pot his third of the season.

But the hope was snuffed out by an empty-net goal with a minute remaining to secure a 5-2 win for the Flyers. Their third win in a row halted Montreal’s streak at four.

With two sets of back-to-back games completed this week, the Canadiens now get three days off before their final game of January, hosting Alex Galchenyuk and the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday before both the All-Star break and bye week finish off the month.